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sadness of the animate

It’s as if there were a cumulus of sadness

adrift throughout the floor plan, a cloud of melancholy

filling the rooms and hallways

swirling around the appliances

inhabiting corners and interior architectural niches like a….cloud. 

It’s not terribly literary. Maybe it’s just pity

“for the human condition?”

I just got done telling you it’s not literary 

It’s not a malaise, or whatever. It’s not that French guy

on Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ dust jacket

with his hand on his gut

all I can tell you is that the bad feeling,

when it shows up

emanates from my daughter’s guinea pigs


It moves out through the house from there.

“your – “

yeah. Maybe it’s just pity. I said that

anymore I’m beginning to think it’s simple pity

but the pity or sadness radiates out from their little cage

on the floor at the back of the house

their utter helplessness has real power; radiant power

It colors the whole house some days

like the old animation of an atomic blast radius

which starts from ground zero

with the illustrator’s naïve and almost playful little cartoon spark

because despite the horrid magic of what follows

the viewer needs to understand the catalyst is just a bomb.

Just a bomb going off


The spark is followed by a red swelling ball

and it quickly swells outward from ground zero

in a perfect circle 

filling all the irregularities of the doomed city

the alleyways and schoolrooms and churches

a ‘swelling bubble’ atomic blast radius illustration

informed more by the technical limits of that day’s commercial art

than by the science of radioactive dispersion

or the observed practice blasts they’d conducted in the field

but it makes the point with an unintended accuracy

and the guinea pig sadness is like that

or feels like that

so sometimes (every time, actually)

when I feed the guinea pigs I watch them eat

yeah I watch them like a mesmerized jailer

and I feel a nearly debilitating sadness

this seems related to the sadness I felt one weekend afternoon

as a teenager, watching a man lean over the glass at JC Penney

carefully poring over the wrist watches

self-creating and oblivious

a hopeful and heartbreaking phatasm

the guinea pigs’ names are Chloe and Buff

they’re two little girls


their food is fancily packaged hay

the hay neatly fills an elaborately printed plastic bag

but is clearly just dead grass swept up from some field somewhere

and jammed into these bags

bits of thoughtless meadow

minutely parceled out to those whose interrupted Darwinian lot

was to roam the meadow

now we bring the meadow to them

I raise the hinged top of the cage

the hay is stiff and comes out of the bag in longitudinal clumps

that have to be smashed down into the dumb little bowls, two bowls

one for each guinea pig

per the human conceit the meadow has to be eaten from bowls

so the straw and bits of dried flower

get jammed down into the bowls

and all the while the guinea pigs are making their whistling sound

of joy or excitement and raising themselves up

their forepaws on the horizontal bars of their cage

then they run in to the eating section of the cage

over a little ramp, as lithe as you please


they eat with their grateful but

expressionless little feminine faces

looking askance at me like I might take the food

me, the giver

I’ve stood there for 15 minutes, 20 minutes

they’re completely unconscious, unenlightened, pure id 

they don’t know they’re captured

what will they do after they gratefully eat

they’ll crap and then eat again

they don’t know they’re alive

what are they for

why are there living things that don’t know they’re living things

these anti-cartesians torment my soul

“We’re at the top of the food chain.”

shut up

every little scrap of meaning

isn’t defined or explained in terms of what eats who

“Life is an end, not a means.”

wrong and shut up


“Well. You mean being alive is a state that is only available

so that the living can see themselves.”

yeah. it sounds buddhist or whatever, but it’s not.

“What’s so great about knowing? What’s THAT for?

You want to ascribe a purpose to everything. Try that one.”

i’m working that out

“the animals are fine. Their cognitive darkness is a salve

they don’t know enough to be sad.”

the guinea pigs are a pillow pressed over my face

eat sleep eat eat sleep like the JC Penney guy

he wanted just the right watch

“He probably got it, too,” you remark.

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