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Tuesday in the Coliseum
Devon W. Thompson

Tuesday in the Coliseum, the crowd arrives in robes of fresh linen. On the arena floor stands the mighty black bear, blood of bested foes caked and matted round the snout. The clouds depart the cobalt sky for regions east, upon orders from the prince.

A blare of brass horns, and the gate opens onto the west pen. The stegosaurus lumbers into the ring and finds a patch of sweetgrass and clover beside the grandstand. The bear charges across the plane of dust and clay to the broad back of the stegosaurus, the cheer from the inebriated crowd.

The arc of a spiked tail, a tumble of fur. The crowd sings pleasant songs of the day. The dinosaur chews and chews and chews and chews.

In moseys the gunfighter, quick-fingered and ornery. With a deft motion he plugs his rival in the tallest of seventeen bony plates. The gunfighter spits an oily wad of tobacco as the stegosaurus grunts and groans. The widows in the crowd, cloaked in darker hues, embrace one another and sigh. Again expectoration, and the fingering of a hand-tooled leather belt, a bent aluminum buckle.

In sequence and with great enthusiasm the gunfighter dispatches a blind koala bear, the editor of a small Vermont daily paper, a fearsome Humboldt squid riding a mighty sequoia. The gunfighter, in turn, is vanquished by a select assortment of prim and industrious young ladies, aged twelve through fourteen, who refuse to be his friends.

The ringing of a bell and the south gate swings wide. The girls, having erected a shelter and begun to scavenge for kindling, succumb noisily to the sturdy talons of the dreadful, broad-winged roc. The crowd trains the lenses of their spyglasses and monocles on the fine contour of the mythic bird as it poses in profile. An approving murmur.

The roc, with avian flourish, defeats a plague of frogs and a plague of carpet salesmen before falling to a common palsy. The palsy is swiftly overcome by Dr. Jonas Salk, who himself is systematically pummeled into submission by commentator George Will. Strong men sob and bay, and are not consoled by the bared breasts of their weeping mothers.

A lively tympanic cadence announces the opening of the broad north gate, and the entrance of a boxing kangaroo. The pugilistic marsupial swiftly subdues the bespectacled pundit, then proceeds to hop over and around his fallen form. Hops on. Hops off.

A hasty succession of victors, and cunning deployments: a venomous asp (venom), a sleek fox (engorgement), a one-eyed friar practiced in the hurlment of blades (precision puncture of delicate and essential tissues). The arena littered with marrow and cuspids and watch fobs. A quarter moon rises in the midday sky, pirouettes once, twice, thrice, and descends.

Enter the stealthy bottomless pit, agape. Stilettos flung and pitched precede the descent of the Franciscan. To follow, in stuporous series: a lofty Irish elk, a prize flock of peacocks draped in strands of prize pearls, eighteen-thousand Congolese refugees, a Buick Roadmaster, a vaporous haze of noxious gas. All tumble at the mouth of the breach. The edges of the precarious pit quaver, mournful cries rise from the depths.

The crowd grows anxious, begins to rattle tin cups on the unforgiving iron bars of their cells.

Over the ragged rim of the Coliseum tumbles the mighty arctic winter, filling the eyes of the crowd with blue light. The frigid gale caps the mouth of the pit with obdurate ice, the mournful cries silenced beneath. Thin linen robes are drawn close over kissed and freckled shoulders, the petals of gleaming tulips wither in the frosty breath.

The shouting of shipwrecked orphans signals the opening of the East gate, and the Conundrum enters the snow-blown arena where it quickly unravels the riddle of the winter, submitting its conclusions in Sanskrit on a mobius strip of fired clay. Standing shadowy in the center of the ring, the Conundrum then defeats itself, in brilliant and uneasy spectacle. The admiring shock of the crowd, and swooning by the finer ladies. Followed by the much anticipated dancing of coarse gypsy women in the narrow and crowded aisles.

Into the ring ride revolutionaries in tricorner hats of supple velvet, carved granite beasts animated with whispered phrases known only to certain artisans of the realm, the Orinoco, the Nile flood plain, the mantis and the child bride. Invertebrates of every stripe, the proton and the hyacinth, the pear, the plum, the jackfruit and the lamb, a cloud of passenger pigeons to cover the orient like a shroud. We see a rare three-toed gryphon become enamored of an elusive aurora, and just in time for tea.

All through the long Tuesday afternoon the matches continue, while rainwater leaps from streambeds fed by bitter storms in the mountains and soaring buttresses crumble in its teeth. Crustaceans overturn their rocks and pick the bones of slaves long interred in mortar and stucco, now laid bare in the wash. Starlings molt in the stone eaves, grey feathers falling like volcanic ash on the soft skulls of infants and crooked men, all cradled in the warm and ample arms of doleful nurses with leaking breasts, and skin as blue as coal.

Individual contests are announced with the arrival of a comet. A cask of rich burgundy versus an emaciated papal envoy (wine, victorious via inebriation), a certain lupine gentleman and the cool lunar radiance (moonbeams, lycanthropic transmutation), Dr. Samuel Johnson opposite James Boswell (Boswell, decapitation), a pair of mild adolescent lovers (she, syphilis), Herr Nietzsche and the creeping kudzu vines (kudzu, dread), the clever chimpanzee and the vat of aqueous sodium hydroxide (lye, saponification).

Revisitations of classic matches are preferred in the early evening: the Uruguayan sportsmen and the Andean slope, young Mary and her wooly ward, two brothers of notable and exceptionally brief lineage.

In fading light jesters roam the spacious marble concourse, juggling—first kittens, then the royal ova. Although men of a certain age may be swayed by fees that are posted and revised with soapstone on slate, the professional advice of jesters should never be heeded. It is commonly agreed, however, that les petits chats, as long as they remain to be had, are utterly delectable.

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