The National Catholic Review
I lingered for hours beneath the gray sideshow canvas,
drawn back to consider those animal monstrosities
who earned their keep by being what they were.

Other kids were less curious, for few cared to watch
deformed beasts eat hay or excrete warm dung
that a young woman kept carefully raked,

tending the buns that dropped into sawdust
from the two-headed cow or the five-legged horse
whose touted fifth leg was no leg at all,

but only a dangling fetlock and hoof,
a useless appendage that could easily be severed,
turning the strange into something more ordinary.

The cow was another story. Each head moved
independently, until the flooded bowls
of four large eyes brimmed with longing.

Even the neck muscles seemed to tense and stretch,
a contest of wills, two minds at cross purposes,
as one head rose to stare into the nothingness of the canvas

and the second lowered to graze from a dusty bale.
I’m not sure what she thought of her life,
that young woman raking dung,

or if she were already thinking past it,
past this place, this small town summer carnival.
Could she possibly have known the tenderness

she inspired with her matter-of-fact answers to question
after question from that small persistent boy
who seemed so intent on getting his money’s worth?

Michael Colonnese, a professor of English at Methodist College, has published in Carolina Quarterly, MSS, Poet Lore, Passages North and The Chattahoochee Review.

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