The Suffering of Animals & Inventor of the Porco-Forte

The Suffering of Animals

“The suffering of the lower animals throughout time is more than I can bear”
—Charles Darwin

I cannot bear it, he declared,
bearing it even as he spoke,
thinking of freshly studied slices
from the layer cake of the past,
plum-studded with remains of bodies
once full of nerve endings.
His stomach hurt, as though he supposed
that every fish with a stomach ache
was gripped with fear of shortened life
or pain prolonged, and every fish
sighed over the mortality rate
of its redundant offspring.
The earthworm drowning,
the earthworm desiccated, the earthworm
in a bird’s beak, the bird with a broken wing:
not one is immobilized picturing
the cumulative wretchedness of its kind
or another. An assassin bug
with its long envenomed stiletto
approaches a spider’s poisoned fangs
by swaying and bouncing on the web
to imitate an innocuous breeze.
One of the two will die, and that death
will not add one microscopic drop of sorrow
to the burden of any animal
except the kind with a high bare forehead
and many notebooks. The finch with a bulbous
beak, who shrills objections
to the poor fit between life as he thinks
it ought to be and life as it is,
that one’s everywhere; by far less common
is the white-bearded beetle who,
frequently knocked on its back,
lies kicking in spasms of sympathy
for anything ever alive.

Inventor of the Porco-Forte

(Cincinnati, 1839)

The pigs were not much taken
with his sense of humor.
He thought first of arranging
to have them struck with wooden hammers,
like piano strings,
but finally, to make them squeal on cue,
he rigged up springs
to pinch their little tails
when he pressed the keys.
He can’t have known pigs well
if he thought a set of shoats,
whether thumped or squeezed,
would stick to their appointed notes.
He thought in terms of bells,
Pythagorean chords,
harmony, control.
His wife and stairstep daughters,
tatting their lace,
he saw in a docile row,
glasses tuned with measured water.
They poured him lemonade.
He never knew
that he was their toothless lion,
that one girl wished to elope
with a tattooed contortionist,
another to be one.
He patted the rump
of a scrubbed and musical piglet—
it bit his thumb.
He was rational, benign,
prayed infrequently
amid his blessings
to his idea of a Divine
Keyboardist, who might
tap him with a felted hammer
to see some mild offense
made right. He never thought
of getting instead
a kick in the pants,
or a grand piano
crashing on his head.

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