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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 13: May 2022
Poem: 170 words [R]
Poet’s Note: 88 words
By Cynthia Anderson

Cow Swatting Flies

—After the painting by Rufino Tamayo and
W. H. Auden’s poem “Musee des Beaux Arts”*
About suffering he was never wrong, 
Rufino Tamayo; how well he understood 
its human position; how it takes place 
while someone else is eating a watermelon 
or opening a window or smoking a cigarette—
how, while the middle-aged are reverently, 
passionately, trapped by their terrors, 
there is always a girl who escapes, 
clutching her hoop in open air. 

Tamayo never forgot 
that a star-crossed cosmos must run 
its course anyhow on Earth—
an untidy spot, where the dogs of war 
go on with their slaughter, 
and dive-bombing birds 
chase innocents into the trees. 

In Cow Swatting Flies, for instance—
how the beast, monumental, 
deliberately turns from disaster; 
any distant, forsaken cry 
is an unimportant failure; 
the sun shines as it must 
on green aloe and pyramids of dirt; 
and the flies who smell something 
amazing, a cow’s behind, 
have nothing to do but dodge 
that whirring, propeller-like tail. 




Poet’s Note:

In 2007, there was a monumental exhibition of Rufino Tamayo’s works at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. I was among a group of poets invited to write about the art and take part in a public reading at the museum. “Cow Swatting Flies” was especially well received. As I returned to my seat, I passed by Luis Leal, a distinguished professor of Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara and a living legend. He gave me a nod of approval which I treasure to this day.


*Publisher’s Notes:

1. Cow Swatting Flies (Vaca Espantándose las Moscas) (oil on canvas, 1951) by Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo (1899–1991) is held in the Nickolas Muray Collection of Mexican Art (AR-00190; Accession Number: 66.4) at Harry Ransom Collection Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. Details from page 13 of the Muray Collection inventory; link retrieved on 28 April 2022:

A reproduction, an offset lithograph (1983), may be viewed at Everything But the House.

To learn more about Tamayo, see also A Mexican Painter Changed by the City, Changes Art by Roger Catlin in Smithsonian Magazine (27 November 2017).

2. Auden’s poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” is the subject of an essay by David Lehman (which includes the complete poem) in The Best American Poetry blog (19 November 2021).

Cynthia Anderson
Issue 13, May 2022

A California resident and poet for more than 40 years, Cynthia Anderson is the author of eleven books, most recently a collection of haiku and senryu entitled Full Circle (Cholla Needles, 2022). Her poems have been published widely in journals and anthologies, and she has received multiple nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. In 2020, she took up short-form poetry including haiku, senryu, cherita, haibun, and split sequences. Her recent work focuses on the natural world and her family history.

Cynthia is co-editor of the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens (Green Poet Press). She makes her home in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park.

Author’s website: www.cynthiaandersonpoet.com

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Formerly Known as Ion, haibun by Cynthia Anderson which was nominated by MacQ for the Red Moon Anthologies, and selected for publication in Contemporary Haibun 17 (Red Moon Press, 2022).

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