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The Only Animal
Evolutionarily, what does it mean that the young of humans reach for brightly-colored objects, sometimes trying to eat them, and other animals instinctively know—that brilliant color announces poison, or danger? Could it be that we are the only animal that reaches for danger; an original flaw, if you will? Could this also be why we will not react in time to not scorch our planet?
Franz Wright called us “The only animal that commits suicide,”
“The only animal that cries / that takes off its clothes / and reports to the mirror.”
I found this again when looking for the poem that these thoughts reminded me of. Was it Wright’s? Or was it Nicole Sealey’s “Object Permanence”?
“There’s a name for the animal // love makes of us—named, I think, / like rain, for the sound it makes. // You are the animal after whom other animals / are named.”
Or was it Twain, who said we are “the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”? We are the only animal that Prometheus gave the marigold of fire to, or was it the California Poppy that brought dizzying visions as we, the only animal that sweats, sat around the flames while the infants that lived, reached for the dazzling and sky-blue heart of the plasma or the fox eyes winking from blankets of ash?
Did the searchlights of owls lure us from the camp? What if we never tamed wolves but only stumbled on a litter of pups, their parent lost on the hunt and our eyes reaching for the iridescent hearth of their blinking? They wouldn’t remember their bloodhunger, their moon thirst, their sprinting through the underbrush. They would see us only as parent, bringing milk, not prey. We later reached for ores, reached for the blood the Metal Ages help us release from others, surfing the tide of death into conquest, empires, cities. The soft animal of our body loved what it loved and reached for it: tool/death; food/death; love/death; beauty/death.
We reached for verdant lands, inflicting our destiny upon them. Brits launched thousands of Sotho miners, created by the dispossession of farmland, into the mouth of the Kimberley diamond mines for the shine of carats Beyoncé wore for Tiffany. They called that mouth, with its Black fillings, the Big Hole. There were gold rushes; blood rushes from the head in infatuations that launched a thousand ships. One should give a caveat to the planetary emporium: they have set their eyes on your red, on your moons, on the asteroids they can mine, these magpies.
Harmful animals evolved warning coloration. Harmless animals mimicked their peers. We would have tried to eat them all. We would have survived about half the time, enough to taste other poisons, to learn to become the fire ourselves, a third-degree burn, a fourth-stage cancer upon whatever we touched. We will outlive the roaches, we will become the only animals left, reaching for the slurry of plastics to fill our stomachs; cowering from, or trying to touch the sun.