We Are the Others (in memory of Cecil)
By Barry Kent MacKay
An Animal Rights Poem from All-Creatures.org

All of God's creatures have rights, a fact that most people don't seem to recognize. This includes both human and non-human animals, but not all of them can speak for themselves.

We Are the Others (in memory of Cecil)
By Barry Kent MacKay

We are the others on this world.

You know that we are here.

But you do not know us well. You cannot know us well. You never, ever will.

We soar high above your heads, our backs aglow with light from stars.

We are below your feet and we are of the earth and soil.

We are in the caves, beneath the waves. We climb among the trees. We live amid the leaves.

We live upon your skin and burrow in your gut, and may dine upon your tissues.

We are often skilled at not being seen. We can also fill your vision.

We come in sizes microscopic, small, medium or large.

We have stomped through rain-wet forests sixty-five million years ago, making the earth and the smaller of us tremble with each step we took, as we smiled the smile you’ll never see, but you can imagine, your visions engineered by our stone bones.

It was not a real smile.

We were here first, but share with you our mutual origins in the muck of hot and shallow seas, laying the groundwork for what was to become, one little proto-cell at a time.

And what became was all of us, and you, the story long from over, in spite of some of your best efforts to date.

We were the first to crawl, to float, to swim, to walk, to breathe, to kill, to fly, to run, to die, to nurture, to think, eat, flinch, fear, call, climb, play, sleep, to dream, to smell and taste, to listen to the fall of rain, to feel the touch of drifting snow, or to eat a seed, a leaf, a flower or to taste life-hot flesh. We were the first to masticate, to appreciate, to defecate, to procreate.

You were the first to hate.

We are colourful, with scales or feathers that can rupture sunlight and blaze red or gold, green or bronze or of an intensely fierce and vibrant blue. Or we are plain, or black, or white, or black and white, or every shade of grey, or even transparent with internal workings on display.

We glint. We glow where sunlight never reaches. Many of us blend in.

We strut. We hide. We move in masses. We live alone. We come and go. We hop.

Most of us never see you. You never see most of us. Most of us do not even know you exist and you do not know that most of us exist. But we influence each other.

We sing, we cry, we roar, we whimper, we snort, we hiss, we whinny, we trumpet, we warble, we growl, we gurgle, we bray, we crow, we bark, we screech, we hum, we buzz, we purr, we author discordant sounds from places hidden in the night. We make sounds that ache with tonal purity from the misty flanks of mountain heights. We can be silent, or we can pound the tree, the water, the ground or leap from the sea’s embrace and land hard upon the cloud-reflecting surface to send up a thunderous explosion of brittle spray.

It is fun, and can dislodge barnacles.

We never pray.

We are the others on this world.

You have named us with names unknown to us, and catalogued us in so many different ways, and probed our genomes and assigned us to the appropriate phylogeny, changed your minds, and changed them yet again. Bones measured, teeth counted, brain volume gauged, our acts carefully quantified, our soft tissues properly pickled and then described in peer-reviewed journals, labels attached to our preserved remains and stomach contents carefully enumerated, all the better to know us.

We are called dog, or cat, spider or rat. We are the lesser kestrel, the razor clam, the banana slug, the fiddler crabs of the genus Uca, the robust skink, the Ceiba borer beetle, the Reeve’s muntjac, the Madagascar leaf-nosed snake, the Corycaeus flaccus, the rainforest rocket frog, the dusky palm squirrel, the graceful grenadier, the rigid cushion star, the yellow-backed oriole, the various underground predatory ants of the genus Acanthostichus, the boreal squid and the clam worms, the lamb led to the knife, the phoronis worm hidden in its sandy burrow, the multitudes you have yet to name, the ones you have yet to blame for whatever we do that might annoy you and those of us you know so well, or think you do, the “charismatic megafauna”: giant pandas, African lions, tigers and tiger sharks and sable antelopes.

We are ospreys, green anacondas, manta rays, giraffes and bison herds on snow-blasted plains, brocket deer in green-toned forests draped with bromeliads and we are snowy egrets posed in mangrove swamps and we are leaping marlin.

But you do not know us well. You cannot know us well. You never, ever will.

We live not to serve you, but serve you we do. You wear our fur, our skin, take our ivory teeth, our baleen strips, the oils of our body, the musk, the scales, the gills, the fins, the bones, the blood, the guts, the eyes and other organs, the roe and eggs and babies, the feathers and plumes and claws, and whatever else you fancy whether needed or not, mostly not. We do need them, oh so very much, and so you take our lives.

We are the tiger, still shining bright in the forest of the night with a flame you work so very hard, so very profitably, to extinguish. We are Blake’s robin redbreast in a cage, or the solitaire, the canary or the nightingale, our music filtered through bars and misdirected from where three billion years of evolution intended it to go, and perhaps you imagine its beauty was meant for you. We are Elsa, the lioness born free, and the goldfinch Leonardo bought and released from its prison cage, Willy the orca who was finally let go, and the lark feeding at the feet of St. Francis, Greybeard the Chimpanzee known to Goodall and the gorillas known to Dian before she was treated so like us. We are Muhammed’s nesting dove and the sparrow whose fall you say God sees.

We are the caribou migrating across the tundra, now thawing, warming us all with the gift of methane. Are you insane?

Send your donation here, you claim, and we will save the polar bear. Promote the Amur leopard in a cage, if you really care. We are thus imprisoned for our own good. The northern right whale has brought you profits, the greater bamboo lemur or western lowland gorilla are good for an appeal; fellow primates, you see, and don’t forget the chimpanzee.

We take your measure too. We are your pets, your prey, your food, your inspiration, your joy and your deep dread.

You have tamed us. You have trained us.

You are so often in control when we are with you every day. We are deep within your soul, but you are in our way. We carry you, nurture you, amuse you with our joy, or our pain, or our death, and we inspire you, scare you, mystify you, or disgust you. We arouse such passions in you and we hardly even try to do so. You are better off avoided, when possible.

You come at us with stone, with spear, with arrow, with knife, with gun, poison, traps of every deviously horrific form your minds can imagine and your opposable thumbs can help you to build. You come at us with bulldozers and other heavy equipment, explosives, and dams, scalpels and drugs, electrodes, prods and prongs and probes, hammers and captive bolt pistols, whips and chains and indifference. You hide many of your abuses, and others you parade with gaudy pride in obedience to hormones and tradition, and, at the root of it all, a reeking foulness deep and best kept hidden.

We can live without you, but you need us. But you betray our trust, and you betray yourselves.

We are Jumbo the elephant, Cheetah the Chimpanzee, the scapegoat and the pig on a spit, and we are Cecil the African lion, tormented and killed for your sick needs.

You can take our lives, our skins, our skulls, but you can never have our purity, our purpose, our elegant innocence, nor our beauty.

See Art by Barry Kent MacKay
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