A poem you might have missed


One of those home town elegies. Sometimes your home town gives you a serious case of the blues. 


The Duck

Immense waves of flight

out from forests, out

from broken-mirror beaver

ponds of frozen mountains,

they fled from ice storms coming.

their shadows fell across the freeways

for days as I too migrated from frost

falling downslope and west,

looking to rest under a forgotten sun.

end of the continent--


it wasn't working. San Diego

after this bad spell I had, after

one too many ghosts in my bed, you know

how you wake up some mornings with the smell of the

invisible on your fingrs and the ruined broken plates

of your plans in slivers in the fireplace.

the first time I made these mistakes I was young

and poor: I was not young

anymore, but was still poor and making the same bad


had enough for gas--1,000 miles: got to the house

of an old lover who stripped me naked

and drew me a bath.

I hoped

to find a home in the city I died in

for my first quarter century.

the water did not wash away

my sins.


she said: get

out, so I went out to see if my old home town

had anything as interesting as an aspen, anything

as good as glacier water or

buffaloes churning in the purple shadows of far



to Mission Bay,

put the club

on the wheel in case some vato was in the market

for a snow-beat jeep, and donned my

Colorado Department of Wildlife baseball cap.


old body made older by the fabulous

hunks of southern California flesh jogging around the bay.

just my rusted ankles and aching back and stupid, dark

ideas in a splitting head, sewage

afloat in the bay, the famous California

brown trout--idiots from El Cajon sped away

on ski-doo's yawping "YAHOO!"

my usual splendid pace.

feeling hideous.


you have to remind the body it exists.

it's not all bad dreams and drooping lusts.

I passed

old men staggering along

the bastards

until my rusted right ankle

threw red sparks into my bones and

caught fire in the kindling of my leg

and pulled me down on a rock

in the piss-yellow sand, feet in rotting seaweed

and heart in the guano.


the cool air felt wonderful.

a train rolling out of San Diego, going anywhere

I wanted to be

sounded its long cry and faded


I walked to the water, put in my feet.

warm as a bath.


not bad,

I confessed.

fish fine as needles

tried to sew my toes


near the effluent pipe

that carries tampons,

teardrops and coffee into the sea,

a duck.

just one.

a mallard male,

balding and ragged.



I sat on my rock and said, "hey."

he jumped. looked at me. wack, he muttered softly,

talking to himself. wack,

wack. I said similar things

to myself when I

typed or did

the dishes. he turned his head and watched the water.

so did I.

"all right," I said.

he looked back at me, clacked

he beak four times,

settled, he fluffed

himself and tucked

his head under a wing and went back

to sleep.


a loud wind-surfer rattled by.

"what the hell!" I said. waaaack!

he cried. wack-wack-wack!

our heads swiveled in unison

when the absurd slapping of joggers' shoes

went past us.

we watched them recede: we lost interest in their errands

at precisely the same moment

and turned back 

to our meditations.


the wind ruffled his feathers.


the wind lifted my hair.


me and the duck:




I understood

the winos

of my youth,

the filthy old men

in the plaza downtown

when a fountain gurgled greenish water

and they still called the town "Dago"

and sailors rushed up Broadway

looking for tattoos

and hookers:

those old men shuffling

their vague plaza circles

reeking of piss

and port, no cents

to get on a bus

out of there: tossing

stale bread

to the birds

of the sidewalks.

holy vermin,

all of them:


those lonesome rummies

with their beautiful pigeons

sharing daylight

before winter got there.

old men


their pals.


I couldn't stay.

I didn't know

where I had to get, but

I had to go

and never

come back.



he said when I said, "so


I had miles to flee

before it


I left him

to rest

before he too


to his own




Originally published in Flyway: A Journal of Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, 2008

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