Animals, 1941, by Rufino Tamayo

Animals, 1941, by Rufino Tamayo


If I stand to the left, just out of frame,
I could be next:
two baying mouths
with tongues as red
as the Lady Danger lipstick
I keep secreted in my purse

A marigold sky,
stone veined with umber,
carmine flash and crimson earth
scattered with bones picked clean
by those red-black bodies.
One paw lifted, claws brandished,
grey teeth,
black whiskers,
a fraction of a hairbreadth
between those dark jaws
and that tiger-striped ribcage.

I think of the gnashing of teeth
at your deathbed,
of the guardians of the underworld
come to ferry you home,
but knowing you, you would have crossed the Styx
a world away from the canine howling
of American wardogs.

If I stand to the right, I’ll be safe
or safer,
though they’ll sniff me out eventually
snouts raised high,
wide, open, white,
olfactories poised.
You knew the heft of an animal
warm in your arms
as well as you knew the violence
of that half-friendly mutt face:
one misguided gesture
and all your digits gone.

I too have known those psychopomps,
I saw them come to carry you.
I stood with them
ran my fingers through their charcoal pelts.
And I saw you there
reflected in that picture frame
sent back to me from the knife-edge field winds,
from beneath the crashing mountains,
two years and just one moon ago.
You were there for a mere instant
and I raised my lens to capture it.

But what do I see when I look to it now
my picture of this picture?
Just the canine frenzy
of the brink of war
with my own reflection
caught in its impermeable glazing
and a room full of turned backs.