“What do they see as they race by?” by Timothy Panchirat

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A literary nugget from Every Twelve Seconds. The author has moved from working in the freezer section, hanging livers, to the chute area, where he has to use electric prods  or orange paddles to get the live cattle to move towards the knocking box section, where their lives are stolen from them so that we, as a society, can eat them.

Excerpted from pages 145 to 146.

After a few hours in the chutes, it becomes clear to me that both Gilberto and Camilo use the electric cattle prods extensively, sometimes¬†sticking them under the animals’ tails and into their anuses. The cattle jump and kick when shocked in this way, and many also bellow sharply. Gilberto uses the prod in almost rote fashion, shocking practically every animal, especially as they near the hole in the slaughterhouse wall that leads into the knocking box. Even when the cattle are tightly packed, with the nose of one animal pushed up against the rear of the animal in front of it — sometimes even with its head squished between the hind legs of the animal in front of it — Gilberto still delivers the electrical shock, often causing the cow to mount the animal in front of it.

Already caked in feces from their time in the feedlot, the transport truck, and the slaughterhouse holding pens, the cattle are packed so closely together as they push their way up the chutes that the defecation of one animal often smears the head of the animal immediately behind it. The impact of hooves against the concrete splatters feces and vomit up over the chute walls, covering our arms and shirts, and sometimes hitting us in the face.

Running up the serpentine with swinging heads, the cattle are no more than a few inches away from us, separated only by the torso-high sides of the chute. Some poke their noses up over the chute wall to sniff at our arms and stomachs. I can run a bare hand over their smooth, wet noses, a millisecond of charged, unmediated physical contact. At close range, even caked in feces and vomit, the creatures are magnificient, awe-inspiring. Some are muscular and powerful, their horns sharp and strong. Others are soft and velvety, their coats sleek and sensuous. Thick eyelaches are raised to reveal bulging eyeballs with whites visible beneath darkly colored irises. I see my distorted reflection outlined in the convex mirror of their glossy eyes: a man wearing a hard hat, wielding a bright orange paddle. I look crazed, a carnival-mirror grotesque, upholder of a system that authorizes physical, linguistic, and social concealment to allow those who consume the products of this violence to remain blind to it. And what of the cattle, what of each of the twenty-five hundred creatures that are run through this chute each day? What do they see as they race by? What do they experience in the final moments before their deaths?

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