By Robert Wrigley
Featured Art: A Green-winged Teal by Jagdish Mittal
Every morning, the solitary blue-winged teal drake
swam the east-to-west length of the high mountain lake
in silence. Every evening he’d fly back
uttering on his way a single sad quack.
What we wondered, my sons and I, was why.
Why here, an otherwise duckless nowhere? The sky
was wide and blue above him; surely the flyways beckoned.
Though we also knew we had no way of reckoning
what kind of inner life he might have possessed,
if inner life is what instinct is, or if he was lost,
or if—and this, we understood, was as much about ourselves—
there was something he himself had lost. Was our blue wing
blue because, like certain geese, his kind mates for life?
This was how we came to refer to her as his wife,
as Mrs. Teal, the missing one, for whom he mourned,
whose absence had led him, with the terrible wound
of his grief, to come to this place of refuge and learn
—well, what? To be a duck again, since our theory’d turned
him into something else? The last morning, my sons climbed
a nearby peak on their own, and I passed the time
alone and was, after an hour that way, so lonely
I could find no escape. I wanted nothing, except to have them
back with me, and then I saw Mr. Teal on his morning swim.
He was stopped not far from camp. I could tell who it was
though he was ass-up among some reeds
in the shallows. I watched him feed
for a long time, just the two of us, until I was hungry
and ceased for a little while to worry.
And later, when the boys came back, he took again to the sky,
uttering as he did his single inconsolable cry.
Robert Wrigley lives in the woods of north central Idaho. His books include Box and Anatomy of Melancholy & Other Poems (both from Penguin).
Originally published in NOR 6