The Radiant Lives of Animals

The Radiant Lives of Animals
Linda Hogan
Beacon Press, 2020

This small book of poetry and prose is a love letter to Linda Hogan’s home. It is a narrative of recovery. Hogan must come back to health and strength after a severe horse-riding accident. The Depression-era cottage she buys to hide away and live quietly is being brought back to life after years of neglect. She is bringing pasture and garden into productivity. She is repairing relationship with the land and all its inhabitants.

This is also an account of loss. There is development, breaking apart links with the more-than-human world. There is death, both expected and sudden. But the grounding for her story is the loss of indigenous life-ways. Hogan is Chicaza (her spelling for Chickasaw), one of the Southeast nations that was decimated by the colonizer project of ethnic cleansing along the Trail of Tears. Most of the peoples who underwent this forced removal from homelands and the cultures based in those places never fully recovered — and may not. Hogan grapples with this throughout the book.

Linda Hogan is a gentle writer. She seems genuinely perplexed by the ignorant cruelty of some humans. But she finds delight in gentle beauties as well. Hers is a soft view of her Colorado home. Even as she is describing attacks by mountain lions and the death of her cat from the bite of a rattle-less rattlesnake, there is kindness and empathy for hunter as well as hunted.

Apparently, she follows the old dictum of not saying much if there is nothing good to say, because where one might expect rancorous rants against humanity — entirely justified — she merely recounts and moves on. A developer buys the pasture where her horses, along with many other animals, are boarded. Not only does he destroy the pasture, but he also cuts down all the native vegetation even to the point of removing the protective band of rooted plants along the riverbank. Hogan dispassionately tells this story and lets her readers imagine the predictable results. 

In this book, there is a description of being sufficiently still to observe and be observed by wildlife. This story concludes with an observation that has arrested my imagination. 

Maybe it was my silence, or maybe I have been changed to another presence, enchanted by my life here Perhaps I have become a changeling, as in old stories. For a moment I am not the ordinary enemy.

I have been turning this idea of the “ordinary enemy” around in my head for days now. It is the casualness of conflict, the wordless acceptance of enmity, the assumption of discord between humans and everything else that gets to me. How we became the ordinary enemy in this our only home is, I think, perhaps the essential story of humanity. I am quite sure it is also the central obstacle to regaining our place in the world.

I do not wish to be an ordinary enemy. Today’s poem is a plea for release from that bondage…

And so here is Day the Fourteenth for National Poetry Month.

ordinary enemy no more

i wish to be benign
known as friend and never foe
harmless fellow being
     going about my business 
i wish to walk within
to be embedded in this web
to no longer be the broken thread
i wish to be familiar
no infamy to sunder kith and kin
to not be unwanted on my wonted ways
i wish to be ingrained
grounded in this gregarious world
one of many in garrulous concert
i wish to be unseen
accepted and unexceptionally homespun 
innocuous inhabitant
     of our common home
i wish to be neighborly
goodwill taken for granted
companionship and comfort
     given willingly wherever
i wish to be creaturely
basic boring kindly beast
this natural and native 
     — but affable — fauna
i wish to be
the ordinary enemy
no more

©Elizabeth Anker 2022