by Gavin Duncan


What does it mean to be alive?

I am genetically bred to fulfill your needs and expectations. For that very reason I could never be perfect; only better than I was. These black spots are a reminder of my history. The canvas of the cattle is washed black with human detachment.

You take what I give without asking; had you asked, you would still supersede your interests over my own. If I cannot speak for myself, must I be a resource for those who can?

If I give too little you would have me slaughtered. If I give too much, you would idealize my talent and hold me to a shining pedestal. I would become the standard and all my friends would become more imperfect, in need of a genetic update. If I cannot maintain, you would have me slaughtered just the same.

When did the value of my life become dependent on your desires?

If I had black spots in my brain and went mad, you would have me butchered and added to the pile. The farmer’s boy had a deafening sickness the other day. You gave him medicine and a warm bed to lay in; yet, he was not laid to rest like I would have been.

These stout legs carry more than my own weight; they carry the weight of the civilized world. This body no longer belongs to me; it belongs to the diet of the civilized world. My cries are heard by the world, but not the civilized.

My voice became a whisper the day you slotted me into the machine. It crushes the bones of brothers and robs the milk of mothers. I am no more self-determined than the paper you write your infantile fantasies on. Whisper dissolves into whimper as my legs march on and squash the memories of all those who became meat for the machine.

Oh, what it would mean to be free! Free from having my destiny inscribed by someone else’s pen. The ink spilled on your canvas and the black spots on mine are the same.
But what does it mean to wield the pen?

My black spots are more than imperfections; they are a symbol of my eternal enslavement to humankind. Even still, they are mine and they are beautiful. You could wash away my black spots, but you could never lose yours; they stain every surface they touch like oil.

As you pat my head and daringly stroke my cheek, I have half a mind to look you in the eyes and say this much.

If only you could understand me, would you know what it truly means to be alive?

Gavin Duncan is in his junior year at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University and is expected to graduate in the spring semester of 2021. He is working towards a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with a concentration on the environment, communication, and society. He is also minoring in environmental writing and rhetoric and plans to use creative writing to convey complex scientific information to the general public. His hobbies include hiking and outdoor recreation, making music, drawing and painting, creative writing, film, and, of course, communicating environmental non-fiction. You can reach out to him at for any questions, comments, or concerns.