Poet's Notebook: My poem, "True story of a one-legged duck" followed by comments

True story about a one-legged duck, a parable

I was walking down the bike path
between Poultney and Castleton on a hot summer day.
It used to be a railroad track,
passing through fields, forest and bog.

There behind an old derelict farm,
right up against the raised path,
was an old beaver pond.
And in the middle of the pond

There was a small island
that used to be the beaver lodge.
And on the island
stood a white, one-legged duck.

I stopped and looked at the duck, which held my gaze,
it was so beautiful!
I wished it a good day.

I stopped again on the way back to my car.
It hadn’t moved perceptibly.

Next week, I took the same walk.
The duck was still there,
but the island was larger
and the pond was much smaller.

I could see where the dam,
or what was left of it,
was no longer doing its job.
Everything was drying up.

I felt bad for the one-legged duck.

The next week I decided to fix the dam.
I returned with pick, crowbar and shovel;
I worked for hours
while the beautiful duck watched me.

I was up to my waist in mud.
The logs were heavy and sodden
and hard to reposition.

Water prefers to flow.
I made myself think like the water.
I talked to the duck while I was working.
I talked to the logs and the water.

I whistled to myself.

When I was done, I felt really good.
The pond was already beginning to refill.
I imagined that the duck was grateful.

I waited a few days before I returned,
bringing my tools just in case.
There were feathers everywhere on the island
but no duck.

The pond was back to being a pond.
But now that there was no white duck in the middle,
it no longer looked beautiful.

It was just an exaggerated mud hole.

Had I waited too long?
Or was the one-legged duck simply doomed,
in which case I had wasted my time.
I sat for a long time in thought.

My heart wouldn’t let me leave.

I thought about the world.
I thought about how most of us are missing something,
just like the duck.
I thought about how the world we call home
is like an exposed little island,

I thought about how, no matter how much work we do
it may be too late to save ourselves
but we don’t know until we try.

I wondered if the duck was lonely.
And finally, I thought about how the duck’s presence
had made everything beautiful,
including me, to myself.

shouldering my tools,
I went home.


This is pretty much what happened, even how it ends is accurate. After all my work, and the duck meeting its end despite my efforts, I regarded the whole experience as a living parable of how things fare with the planet. The one-legged duck stood for so much. It was almost like a set-up, to teach me something. It took years for me to write about it. I am still reading Coelho’s The Alchemist, which I mentioned in my previous blog entry. I doubt that I would have bothered writing about this little adventure with the duck if not for this book, which talks a lot about omens, and the importance of paying attention to omens along the way. The shepherd, in Coelho’s epic yarn, is always realizing that, if you stay focused on living your “personal legend”, that the universe will help you along the way, but sometimes we don’t realize it is helping except in retrospect. He says, “Everything on earth is being continuously transformed, because the earth is alive . . . and it has a soul. We are part of that soul, so we rarely recognize that it is working for us.” He also says, “ . . . our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.” I believe that, but I guess I have to keep being reminded that I believe it.

   —Gary Lindorff