Two-Headed Cow

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,

Advertisement

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?

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, is pictured in a 2017 photo (CNS photo/Bob Roller) 
This case shows the mystifying complexity of the human person—or at least this human person.
James Martin, S.J.July 16, 2018
A front-page article published July 16 detailed the alleged abuse of two seminarians in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, by then-Bishop Theodore E. McCarrick.
Elsie Fisher (photo: A24)
Bo Burnham’s new movie is a joyous reminder that 13 is not, in fact, the best year of your life.
John AndersonJuly 16, 2018
A couple gets married in Stockholm, Sweden, in this 2013 file photo. (CNS photo/Fredrik Sandberg, EPA) 
“The right of Catholics to express disagreement with their leaders is a right as old as Peter and Paul.”
The EditorsJuly 16, 2018