1. In the beginning, Lassie. That old mongrel. But the first death is just the first death. I cried more over Jane who ended up with half her body not working. The vet handed her back in a box, so we could bury her in the garden. Guinea pig doesn’t sound serious enough for such sobs.
2. The Russian hamsters – Rachmaninoff & Shostakovich – were not a great success. I won’t say more here, but I failed them. Twice.
3. I nearly had kittens, but another girl got to them first and it was hard to forgive. Tabby was adventurous; Polly feral, scratching skin to blood.
4. The best of times was Christmas and Christmas was for donkeys. Afternoon walks through graying streets, pockets clunky with chocolate coins, pink sugar mice.
5. My brother, grown to greatness, began the Christmas Rat Walks. I leave to your imagination the river’s path, the stones, the hilarity. Thus do traditions evolve.
6. Miggy, our funny Welsh collie. We loved you, even with the bellows, crossing fields like you had no home, and we took you home to the slate-strewn hills whenever we could, but maybe you just didn’t understand our tongue.
7. Herdwicks and heifers and little lamb who made thee asked mum every Easter, as we drove past daffodil-splattered fields. I heard those words even when the lamb was bloody, abandoned by a wall.
8. Trigger, Benji, Copper, Whisper: you held us, our growing legs wrapped round you. Racing and falling. You carried the coffin painted with sunflowers through the snow when we mourned more brightly than anyone had ever mourned before.
9. Are there more? I forget. But the dogs! So many hounds that jumped in and out of things while their owners will never be remembered apart. The un-dogged were barely complete. Sam, Trixie. Holly, Hunsa, Jack, Jen, Luca, Milo, Isla, Luna. I can’t find, now, all the names, but the smells, the hairs, the wellies at the doors. Walks in woods, so now every path has something missing. Murphy. You were so loved.
10. Then came the sea and the sea-held creatures. The ocean and its furies. The plankton-full swirling. The drifters, the jumpers, the soarers. Another world of lives to never fully know. Instinct takes over. We wait out the storm.
Sara Barnard is from the UK, has lived in Spain and Canada, and is now based on a sailboat (currently in Central America) with her husband, child, and laptop for company. The last few years have mainly been about parenting and PhDing. She recently has had work published in Bone & Ink Press, Glass Poetry Resists, Hypertrophic Literary, Ink & Nebula, and Anti-Heroin Chic.
3 thoughts on “My Animal Life: An Autobiography in 10 Parts by Sara Barnard”
This is a really fabulous poem. It is especially wonderful to read it during the holiday season. “Guinea pig doesn’t sound serious enough for such sobs.” Ah, it is only the love invested in another creature–and we are all “another creature”–that makes such sobs the ground of our moral being. I mostly dislike comparing one poet to another, but I feel compelled to mention that I thought of Frank O’Hara as I read along, and as the easy lines tempted me to think such work is easy. It’s not. Such lines are the culmination of a life lived with attention being paid to it. And I thought of Homer, how, like you Sara, Homer mentioned all the names, for Homer the names of the dead heroes in his epics. And it is nice–not nice, but true–that it is an autobiography, a picture of the author seen through the frame of both self and otherness. Thank you for writing this lovely poem, Sara, and thank you Okay Donkey, for bringing it to us, especially during December.
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This is fabulous, Sara!