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"Before Carnival" by Pamela Richardson

~Venice, February 2002

Empty-eyed, paper-mache bird heads

stare through windows, hang with beaks

turned down toward the street. Red,

purple, jewels and feathered masks line

dark walls. A rainbow of plumage

covers holes, nails, and centuries old

stains that resist layers of paint. Cat eyes,

bird eyes, hollowed out, lined with jewels

reflect the single bulb above them.

In the street, orange and yellow sunset

reaches across gondolas, resting on the sea,

tied, waiting for tourists and drivers. They rock

against one another, knocking on the concrete

wall, count the seconds till darkness.I hold

my breath on the Bridge of Sighs, wait

to hear the moans of prisoners echo

between walls and the sound of waves hitting

boats that carry the damned. I only hear

heels, sharp and thin, striking brick

walkways. The sun has set. Shadows

stand tall against street lights. A lone waiter

sits and smokes in front of a window

filled with streamers.

Alone in Plaza de San Marco,

I grasp the blessed, blue rosary

from the basilica. Four horses, replicas

of the stolen Quadriga, hover over the edge

above me, only the sound of my breath

fills the space. From the corner, a clown,

painted white and red with black lines that jut

from his eyes. His suit, purple and blue

with bells. He skips across the plaza, pirouettes,

and covers me with showers of confetti.


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