Poetry by Margaret Marcum and Prose by James Marcum

“After the Harvest”
             By Margaret Marcum

In this kingdom of crap,
rulers of rubbish
devastate the land,
dominate the waters, and never
share the air.

In this paradise of plenty,
jeweled berries and
precious potatoes
piece together our salvage.

Freedom falls from branches,
and security sprouts from the soil,
if patience prevails.

The four corners are for the poor—
remember what dwells in store.
Take heed nothing remains—
a storm is coming.

“A Storm is Coming: A Thought Experiment”
             By James Marcum

One of the main arguments for defending our right to eat animals, especially farm or domesticated animals, is that they’re below us cognitively, consciously, morally, and communicatively—even though we know they are sentient, have feelings, can care and connect with one another and us, and can even solve problems and use tools. For example, domesticated animals—like dogs—often exhibit the capacity to inform their owners through their behavior that they want something—like a walk in the park or to be fed. And yet in many cultures, these animals are fair game for consumption. Dogs in particular are often slaughtered in Asian meat shops. However, Western cultures are no better with their incessant butchering of “Babe the Pig”—both dogs and pigs are considered equivalently conscious. But what if we were to be on the receiving end of such butchering by a “superior” race? Let’s engage in a little thought experiment and see where it leads.

What if an alien race that is far superior to us landed on earth? And what if it has far greater cognitive, conscious, moral, and communicative faculties so that we seem as inferior—cognitively, consciously, morally, and communicatively—to them, as we think wild and domesticated animals are to us? In other words, we couldn’t communicate with the aliens as they communicate with each other, i.e., we would appear to be barking or mooing or meowing when trying to communicate with them. And what if these aliens had brain receptors that were stimulated by eating our flesh, so they became addicted to it? And let’s assume that at this time there are only farm animals and us available for consumption. And the reason why these aliens like our meat better is because we eat predominantly farm animals, who only eat plants so that their protein is derived from plant protein whereas our protein is obtained mainly from farm animals so that the aliens believe our meat is not only tastier but its protein quality higher. Moreover, the aliens believe that our meat is more nutritious than the farm animal-derived meat when in fact it is just as harmful to their health as animal meat is to ours. And what if the aliens justify eating us because we are inferior to them consciously and morally (after all, look how we exploit and abuse animals and one another)? In other words, they practice speciesism just like we do. How would we respond to this injustice perpetrated on us and our children? Finally, what if the aliens besides eating us also use our hides to clothe themselves, exploit us to entertain themselves, and finally conduct scientific and medical experiments with us as human “guinea pigs” to advance their quality of life and health?

So what is the moral of this thought experiment? If we truly are the higher species, especially morally, as our speciesism claims we are, then we need to exhibit it by being kind to others especially those who are “inferior” or vulnerable. We need to acknowledge that domesticated and farm animals, as well as wildlife itself, are cognitively, consciously, morally, and communicatively agents that need our respect and protection to live lives to their fullest. For example, they do communicate with one another as to the injustice—as they understand it—of being slaughtered and eaten by us and used for clothing or entertainment or in scientific and medical experiments. Just think of the cow who refuses to move when hearing the cries of anguish of its fellow mates being slaughtered! Are we simply that uncaring—that inhumane? Finally, our addiction to animal meat and our exploitation of the earth to satisfy that addiction is one of the major contributors to climate disruption that is predicted to lead to our own extinction. In the end, the question we must ask: Is a storm coming after harvesting animal flesh with our bloody hands?

             By Margaret Marcum

You shoot up power and pleasure and
pluck another sour grape from the dying vine.

This is the hour we have formed to drain desire—
Will we see it in time?

Genocide to make it clean,
genocide to keep it pure.
Genocide reminds us of the genesis of blood—
submerged, we’ve forgotten how to surface.

Instead, we bow our heads further to bathe,
with our hands becoming blood red.

“Blood-Red Hands”
             By James Marcum

My journey to a vegan lifestyle was slow, very slow, for numerous reasons. The major reason, however, was the curtain society had pulled over my eyes to blind me to the cruelty associated with animal exploitation. As noted in the 2005 documentary “Earthlings,” we exploit animals with respect to companionship, food, clothing, entertainment, and science. I was certainly guilty on all counts; but it’s the last one that eventually motivated my journey to a vegan lifestyle. I’d like to share three episodes from my life as a biomedical scientist that eventually prompted me on a journey to my present vegan lifestyle.

The first episode was as a graduate student. In my research, I investigated the transmission of neurotransmitters across the synapse. I used rats in my experiments. Specifically, I anesthetised the animals with ether, bled them by cutting the post cava vein, i.e., the major vein running to the heart, and then excised the diaphragm and its attached phrenic nerve. During one of the surgeries, I failed to anesthetise the rat completely and the animal regained consciousness and started to crawl off the dissecting board, with its bowls extruding from its abdomen. In a panic, I rushed the surgery to remove the diaphragm-phrenic nerve prep. At the time, I realised that the animal was in pain; but I failed to appreciate fully how that pain resulted in suffering for this animal. Although I felt ashamed of the pain I had caused another creature, I didn’t feel enough shame to stop the suffering I was causing these experimental animals—after all, I had a career to pursue!

The next episode occurred when I began a post-doctoral fellowship. My project was to determine if heparin—a well-known blood thinner—played a role in maintaining the blood’s fluidity. The experiments involved perfusing dogs with saline and then analyzing the perfused saline for the presence of
 the blood thinner. I had perfused around a half dozen dogs and was not detecting the blood thinner in the perfused saline. Then one day the dog provider brought me a German shepherd. As I approached the dog with a syringe full of an anesthetic, the dog cowered before me. I was shocked that a shepherd would behave that way, especially when I was approaching it with a sharp object. I told the provider my experience and asked why such a dog would cower before me. He laughed and said that the protocol was to beat the dogs into “docile submission.” Many of the dogs provided were strays caught on the streets of Boston and surrounding communities. I was devastated by what he said and felt so sad and guilty for being part of such a cruel industry. That dog was the last in that series of experiments. But I didn’t stop my animal experiments but shifted to rabbits and eventually to rats and mice.

The final episode occurred a few years later, after I had shifted from rats and mice to body parts, such as eyes and aortas, of bovine calves to avoid using animals altogether. The slaughterhouse from which I obtained these body parts was in a residential community in Cambridge, Mass. A big white fence surrounded the facility to shield it from the community. At first, I had body parts delivered to me in the lab; but I soon realized that I needed to prevent tissue decay by collecting the parts in preservatives as they were cut from the calves.

The whole operation was at best eye-opening, as I visited the slaughterhouse. The calves were strung up by their hind limbs and then stunned and gutted. While performing these operations the butchers would often sing, “Boom, boom, out go the lights!” But what surprised me most was that the calves weren’t struggling when they were strung up. One day I was at the slaughterhouse when the animals were being delivered on trucks, and I soon found out the reason why they didn’t struggle when being strung up for slaughter. For veal to be tender, I was told, the calves are confined so they can’t move freely. The result is that their muscles don’t fully develop and therefore the meat is tender to the human palate. It was horrifying to watch how the calves were brutally prodded off the trunk, when they simply stumbled and fell because of their weakened condition. After that experience I refused to eat veal and shifted to cell culture to conduct my experiments.

The question I began to struggle with as I continued to conduct animal experiments is whether such experiments are, even for biomedical purposes, justifiable. The answer to that question depends, I justified rationally, on whether the information obtained from such experiments significantly advances our biomedical knowledge and helps to develop effective therapies. As for my experiments with the diaphragm-phrenic nerve prep, the results ended up being completely useless because of poor theoretical design and analysis. The dog experiments were also useless. In fact, I was so disgusted with them at the time that I tore out the pages recording the experiments from my lab book. The other experiments did provide information that has become part of the scientific cannon, although these experimental results haven’t been translated from lab bench to bedside as useful therapeutics. In the end, however, my conversion to a vegan lifestyle was the necessary step in my transformation from blood-red hands to a heart that recognizes the need to feel for and act upon the cruelty that emanates from our speciesism, which is at the heart of our moral and emotional insensitivity to the animal pain and suffering caused in animal experimentation.

“You Who Chooses Not To Feel”
             By Margaret Marcum

Fading into branches
like the Cheshire cat,
moon-smile, breath-taking-
ironically, she doesn’t bother asking,
which way to go since
she can’t move anyway.

A crate makes her bones ache,
down into sawdust,
billowing back to her homeland,
her sloped fields and gentles faces,
she will never see again.

She never had a chance,
and neither will you.

- James Marcum is professor of philosophy and adjunct professor in the Environmental Humanities program at Baylor University. He earned doctorates in philosophy from Boston College and in physiology from the University of Cincinnati Medical College. He also holds a Master of Arts in Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School for over a decade before joining the faculty at Baylor University. He has received grants from several funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the American Heart Association. He delivers invited lectures frequently at both national and international conferences. He is single author of eight books and editor of another, along with around two hundred articles. His current research interests include the philosophy and history of environmental studies/sciences. 

Margaret Marcum is a lecturer in the English department at Baylor University. She was recently awarded an MFA in creative writing, with emphasis in poetry, from the English department at Florida Atlantic University. She has published over fifty poems in such literary magazines as Amethyst ReviewBarzakh MagazineCoffin Bell JournalNonBinary ReviewScapegoat ReviewThe Islandia JournalOctober Hill Magazine, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and Children, Churches, and Daddies, among others. She is also author of the chapbook of poems entitled, Recognition of Movement (Bottlecap Press, 2023). Her literary interests include ecofeminism, animal rights, veganism, and healing the collective through personal narrative.

Copyright©2024 by Margaret Marcum and James Marcum. All Rights Reserved.