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The Beauty, the Boredom, and the Horror

Matthew Ryan Shelton

for Paul Maddern

In the park behind the Lemon Tree Café

sits a man in a straw-paper hat

chewing on a coronita at ten o’clock

in the morning. The air is wet with heat.

He strikes half a dozen matches, giving up

at last and sitting back

against the wood and iron bench

bolted down in concrete

on the slope. Roosters strut and thrust

their heads on gangly necks distrustfully

among themselves.

Green with age, obscured by rampant hedge-roses,

a copper woman holds a copper basket,

her other copper hand set to her copper hip,

watching lugubrious ruffled and bulb-throated pigeons

wobbling oblique trajectories

across the lawn. A gathering of grounds-keepers

in baseball caps and bent-back syllables,

loiters under the arbor, their sweat-black faces

flush with sun; bougainvillea twisted up

broad columns, clustering with pink-red blooms

drooped inward in the shade.

Three cocks have divided the park.

One roots at the base of a palm, bowed out and blackening

up, up into the spinneret of a brand new frond.

From time to time he perks up his head

to check on his dominion, scratching

in the flowerbeds among yellow

shrimp plants, catches of pink

bermudiana, and asparagus fern.

The air bristles with the native language

of neon-yellow-bellied birds, black-faced

and white-stripe-crested (kiskadees,

he later learns, from the pages

of A Naturalist’s Guide

to local flora and fauna)

their wrought-iron representations

cast in a statue of general flight

mounted on poles of their own making.

The cocks continue digging. The men disband.

One cock chases another

into a stand of elephant ears.

A third erupts in a piercing shriek

—once, twice—

perched on the head of an obsidian seated figure

on a concrete block in the middle of the lawn.

A woman in a short white dress,

camera strap slung around her neck and flanked

by what looks to be her husband,

carrot-faced and hulking

in a polo and Bermuda shorts,

snaps photos of the elephant ears

and double checks the placard, unconvinced

this is the right place:

“Queen Elizabeth Park, in commemoration of

her Diamond Jubilee, the 21st of April, 2012.”

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