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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 4, December 2012

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Tish Davis
Dublin, Ohio, U.S.A.


Carnival of Animals

on an adobe wall
various crosses
dimly lit
without Christ
the color of clay

Candlelight eases the fatigue. For the past week we’ve been crossing the border daily, leaving for Reynosa early and returning to McAllen before dark. Tonight, the head waiter escorts us. Here, uncluttered white tablecloths briefly clear the mind.

pianoforte—
a patron cradling
his cabernet,
felt-covered hammers
striking steel strings

I only notice the music when the pianist switches to movie themes. Suddenly I’m back in the company van, camera panning left, then right as we cross the Pharr Bridge. A row of shanties topples like dominos, cardboard and wooden slats mixing dilapidated shades of brown. The light changes. The focus is now, “The Columbus Room”—contemporary art, shades of scarlet and gray. When I ask the interviewee how he handles stress, he responds with a soliloquy about fear, describing, in detail, the drug-cartels . . . I pour another glass of wine.

four months of drought
the white-fenced cemetery
dotted with deep red
a statue of Jesus
arms open

By now, my colleagues are telling jokes. They don’t hear me excuse myself.

“Can you play La Paloma?” I ask the pianist. He’s a small, elderly Mexican sitting on two cushions stacked on a wooden chair.

He complies and I watch his fingers, long and curved, noticing the flourish of his hands, how he transitions into the glissando.

“Pick another,” he says after finishing and noticing my delight. “You can pick two.”

The Swan,” I reply with enthusiasm. “The Swan, by Camille Saint-Saëns.”

He shakes his head apologetically. He hasn’t studied classical music. Maybe I can sing the tune? I lean over, closer to his ear. As we begin, the black pattern of sharps and flats pulls me back. I am thirteen again and, studying my mother’s hands for weeks, I learn this song.

beyond short
and brittle grasses
gray-green foliage—
a field of sugar cane
rippling in the wind


Author’s Note: The title is borrowed from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.

First published in Atlas Poetica 11, Spring 2012.

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