Pattiann Rogers’ “Animals and People: The Human Heart in Conflict with Itself”
“We need to know, we must know, that we come from such stock so continuously and tenaciously and religiously devoted to life…We want to give life at the same moment we are taking it.” In Pattiann Rogers’ poem “Animals and People: ‘The Human Heart in Conflict with Itself,’” I find myself wondering not just about animals and our interaction with them, but about labels: holiness, worthiness, things that we want to be known for, but never seem to attain. Humans are animals, after all. Language separates different species, but it does not divide us. We can still communicate with each other, kill one another. We still compete for space and resources. A theme that emerges, even from the title of this poem is that we will never be good enough for whatever “stock” we come from, that our hearts are always in conflict. Animals seem to live guiltlessly, according to some natural design of life, something seemingly divine, but what does it mean, then, to be human? “Some of us like to photograph them…some of us like to go out and catch them and kill them and eat them…and some of us name them.” Are the “us” and “them” in this poem interchangeable?Pattiann Rogers’ “Animals and People: The Human Heart in Conflict with Itself”
I am reminded of the Sowell Collection Conference last spring at Texas Tech. Gretel Ehrlich told us to “remember the importance of the covenant between humans and animals.” In some poems from Rogers’ book The Tattooed Lady in the Garden, this idea is expressed using the actions of animals to illustrate very “human” kinds of emotions, from hummingbird “seductions” to lusting “oak toads.” The idea that “animals and people” are somehow inseparable, somehow living from the beating of one universal heart, somehow maintaining a covenant with one another even though humans are steadily destroying the natural world, is intriguing. The human condition to be the most dominant species on earth is stymied by the fact that, on some level, animals and people are innately the same.
By Clara Bush