‘They are the Last’ by John Berger (abridged)

August 15, 2010

It appears the animals

Beverly

are emigrating: their America

the constellations in the sky

Lizard, Lion, Great Bear,

Ram, Bull, Crow,

Hare…

perhaps the more prudent

like the agouti

have chosen the milky way.

Each year more animals depart.

Only pets and carcasses remain,

and the carcasses living or dead

are from birth

ineluctably and invisibly

turned into meat

‘I believe it’s completely feasible’

said Bob Rust

of Iowa State University

‘to specifically design

an animal for hamburger.’

Elsewhere

the animals of the poor

die with the poor

from protein insufficiency.

When fetched from the pastures

they bring into the cool stable

the heat of the orchard

and the hot breath of wild garlic.

To clean out the cowshed

scatter a little of the mare’s dung

it absorbs their shit

liquid as springtime

and green with grass

And fasten them well tonight

bed them with beech leaves

Beverly

they are the last.

Now that they have gone

It is their endurance we miss

Unlike the tree

the river or the cloud

the animals had eyes

and in their glance

was permanence.

It was the same fox for ever and ever.

To kill him

was to drag him

momentarily

from the earth

of his eternity.

Once the animals flowed like their milk.

Now that they have gone

it is their endurance we miss.

‘The breeding sow,’ it is said,

‘should be thought of and treated

as a valuable piece of machinery

whose function

is to pump out baby pigs.’

Sometimes still

when you are pouring

from the white jug,

the milk

reminds me of the geese

who like dogs

guarded the house.

***

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