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29 May 2002 (Wednesday): this month in harper's

Some magazines I would gladly pay $100/year for a subscription. A few excerpts from June's issue of Harper's Magazine:

Say you scale your own weft and see time's breadth and the length of space. You see the way the fabric both passes among the stars and encloses them. You see in the weave nearby, and aslant farther off, the peoples variously scandalized or exalted in their squares. They work on their projects -- they flake spear points, hoe, plant; they kill aurochs or one another; they prepare sacrifices -- as we here and now work on our projects. What, seeing this spread multiply infinitely in every direction, would you do differently? No one could love your children more; would you love them less? Would you change your project? To what? Whatever you do, it has likely brought delight to fewer people than either contract bridge or the Red Sox.

However hypnotized you and your people are, you will be just as dead in their war, our war. However dead you are, more people will come. However many more people come, your time and its passions, and yourself and your passions, weigh equally in the balance with those of any dead who pulled waterwheel poles by the Nile or Yellow rivers, or painted their foreheads black, or starved in the wilderness, or wasted from disease then or now. Our lives and our deaths count equally, or we must abandon one-man-one-vote, dismantle democracy, and assign six billion people an importance-of-life ranking from one to six billion -- a ranking whose number decreases, like gravity, with the square of the distance between us and them.

- Annie Dillard, "This Is The Life," from the Fall issue of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, published by the Center for Religious Humanism at Seattle Pacific University.

This next one is difficult to excerpt -- you really have to read the whole thing. I read this over lunch, believe it or not.

My mother is a killer.

She knows how to pull a chicken's head off under her size-ten shoe, but she prefers to lay it gently on a chopping block and lop off its head with a clean stroke of the ax. Then she swings the flapping body away from her so its red life spatters the yard.

...This is a woman who has nursed along innumerable baby birds fallen from their nests, foundling rabbits quivering with the anxiety of existence, a hairless baby mouse she tucked away in an old sock, a wild fawn found by the roadside, goats heaving with the effort of holding in their own guts after a dog attack, a calf that lived in a corner of the front room after my father cut it from the womb of its dying mother, a small king snake with a broken back that lacked the prudence to stay out from underfoot. For weeks, I remember, she carried bits of food out to him in a protected brush pile behind the house as he wasted slowly toward death.

I've asked her how she forced past that moment of hesitation when, ax in hand, she eyed the chicken and it eyed her back with the uneasy sideways look a chicken gets when it knows something bad is going to happen. The answer is always the same: It had to be done. We had to eat, she had to protect us, an animal's pain had to be extinguished.

- Sarah L. Courteau, "Chicken 81," in Witness, volume 15, no. 2.

posted by enjelani @ 09:02 PM PST

Replies: 2 comments

"quivering with the anxiety of existence"

I like that. :)

posted by echeng @ 31 05 2002 08:01 AM PST

yeah...the writing in Harper's is invariably quite inspiring. :)

posted by enjelani @ 31 05 2002 11:08 AM PST