Cemetery of the Caimans | Paul Brooke


During the 1970s, it is estimated
one million caimans were killed by
coureiros every year.

Retrace poachers’ campfires,
kick the charred wood,
the disintegrating drying
racks. They slaughtered masses,
hundreds of thousands
of caiman here. Kneeling,
seek forgiveness for wanton
waste, shoes and handbags,
belts and wallets, skins stretched
taut then rolled tight. Out
scattered in the forest are skulls
and bones, pits and crypts
of the long dead, never honored.
On the river, the night’s sky
is a black vestment. The moon
is a new-faced saint. Eyes pulse
the dark margins, hundreds
of thousands of live caiman
rise miraculously from the depths.

Paul Brooke’s work has appeared in The Antioch Review, North American Review, and other publications. He is the author of Light and Matter: Poems and Photographs of Iowa, Meditations on Egrets: Poems and Photographs of Sanibel Island (Florida), and Strings: Two Yakama Indian Women.

His photographs have been exhibited in Ames, Iowa; Des Moines, Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa; and Sanibel, Florida.

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