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Walt McDonald

Aunt Florence and the Kalahari

Swarms kept Uncle Bob's boarders in honey,
hives he learned how to smoke in
the month he took Aunt Florence to convalesce. 
After her second mastectomy, Aunt Florence
had bathrooms built and carpets, a bed and breakfast
halfway to Amarillo.  Bob traded cattle for gazelles

and Kalahari zebras, a prairie sanctuary licensed
for lookers, not one to be shot without a warden
flown up from Houston.  Tourists from forty states
stayed with them over those four years, a waiting list
months long.  Picnickers paid eighty dollars a day. 
Uncle Bob's cowboys drove dozens out in Land Rovers

equipped with biscuits and little tubs of honey and tea,
binoculars with pliable steel cables at every seat,
giraffes and wildebeest near enough to whistle over
and feed, in spite of rules.  When Florence died,
my cousins flew back for a teary weekend and left,
not one to carry on the herd.  The bees were the first
to go, hauled off by a converted bus like a dump truck. 

Nine cars from the train ten miles away loaded
African livestock like an ark for a ranch in Arkansas
licensed for exotics.  Uncle Bob wouldn't watch the auction,
safari furniture Aunt Florence picked out in Dallas,
the wicker trays.  Sweaty, he helped load the emu

and water buffalo, even the vultures in cages. 
Before he moved to the mountains, he gave his gelding
and saddle to me, his summer nephew, whatever I found
in the tack room.  He sold the bony longhorn steers
to the packing plant at a stockyard, mainly for their horns
and hide, trophies for hoods of Cadillacs and walls. 

Walt McDonald was an Air Force pilot, taught at the Air Force Academy, and served as Texas Poet Laureate for 2001.  He has published nineteen collections of poetry and fiction, including All Occasions (Univ. of Notre Dame Press), Blessings the Body Gave, and The Flying Dutchman (Ohio State), Counting Survivors (Pittsburgh), Night Landings (Harper & Row), and After the Noise of Saigon (Massachusetts).

His poems have been in journals including American Poetry Review, The American Scholar, The Atlantic Monthly, First Things, Image, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, Poetry, The Sewanee Review, and The Southern Review.


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