And We The Creatures

edited by C.J. Sage

Dream Horse Press, California.103 pgs.
$15.95 paper.
ISBN: 0-9659307-5-0

I approached this book fully intending to experience a theme-anthology and maybe some pretty poems about our beloved pets. May I apologize to myself and to the publisher. Here is an anthology of nearly 90 poems that shift the view of the reader, with powerful writings, presenting poems that are a critique of our society, and become seeds in the heart that stay, days after the reading. We all know how poetry of an ‘intended narrative’ can become polemic. Not here. These poems struggle with questions of monumental size; they are not philosophical utterances; they are solid literary works that take into account the solitude of suffering – in this case, the suffering of animals. The spirit of compassion that fills this book tilts the scale of humankind and, while illuminating the wrenching conditions that animals endure, the poems are masterpieces of the spirit. I don’t know how the publisher J.P. Dancing Bear, and editor CJ. Sage managed to gather these particular poems; I do not know how much time and attention it took, but let me say, patience was rewarded for this is as fine an anthology as is printed today. This is a poem from Wesley McNair: (p.2)

The Puppy
From down the road, starting up
and stopping once more, the sound
of a puppy on a chain who has not yet
discovered he will spend his life there.
Foolish dog, to forget where he is
and wander until he feels the collar
close fast around his throat, then cry
all over again about the little space
in which he finds himself. Soon,
when there is no grass left in it
and he understands it is all he has,
he will snarl and bark whenever
he senses a threat to it.
Who would believe this small
sorrow could lead to such fury
no one would ever come near him?


And look at this, from poet Ashley Capps. The bio notes say this is her first publication. Reason enough for an entire book, if it premiers such a single work as this. (pg.19)

I Used to See Her in the Field Beside My House

Perhaps it is the way your nipples,
long like fingers on an open hand,
beckon the tired, huddled, osteoporosis-fearing
masses to your swollen, steaming milk sack.

The skin of your huge behind ripples
where giant horseflies understand
only that you taste good, not that they hurt you while you’re looking
at the vast and swirling pasture through a crack

in your stall. Cow, listen‑ forget the deep pools
of rain that pock the lit, green land –
scape of your youth. Forget the singing
man who rubbed your head. He’s readying the rape rack.

in the end, you’re skinned and processed. A hip pulls
loose, shoulders dismantle in the hands
of some masked worker. Old girl, there is nothing
in this world that loves you back.


There is no better testament to the book than to show a sampling of these poems written under the duress and concern for all living things — poetry honoring the interaction between all of us.Jane Mead writes about a scene we have all viewed: (pg. 26)

Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty

What struck me first was their panic.

Some were pulled by the wind from moving
to the ends of the stacked cages,
some had their heads blown through the bars –

and could not get them in again.
Some hung there like that-dead –
their own feathers blowing, clotting

in their faces. Then
I saw the one that made me slow some-
I lingered there beside her for five miles.

She had pushed her head through the space
between bars‑to get a better view.
She had the look of a dog in the back

of a pickup, that eager look of a dog
who knows she’s being taken along.
She craned her neck.

She looked around, watched me, then
strained to see over the car‑strained
to see what happened beyond.

That is the chicken I want to be.


What I want to do is print 80 (and more) poems – the whole book in fact – to share the pleasure and fulfillment of a thing beautifully made. This book is in the noblest tradition of the poet; it showcases writing richly conceived from a poet’s conscience. Poet Jane Hirshfield prefaces the book with this poem:

To Hear the Falling World

Only if I move my arm a certain way,
it comes back.
Or the way the light bends in the trees
this time of year,
so a scrap of sorrow, like a bird, lights on the heart.
I carry this in my body, seed
in an unswept corner, husk-encowled and seeming safe.
But they guard me, these small pains,
from growing sure
of myself and perhaps forgetting.


What Jane says, and what this book does, is to remind us – that there is a similarity between the person who writes the poem and the fox in the field. The same rivers flow through all living beings. The difference is that we are the ones — we are the only creatures on earth — who can tell the story. The foreword by Steve Kowit is one of wisdom. Its intelligence and caring sets the tone for the whole. Several hundred copies of And We The Creatures have been donated to PETA. If you buy one anthology this year, let it be this one.