Where Poems Come From
Could be from under a duck’s wing, feathers
speckled with flecks of light sifted through trees.
Or from the duck itself, muddy brown, eddying
along the pond’s edge. Camouflage, as in camoufler,
to disguise. Or camouflet, a whiff of smoke. You saw
it first, when we walked into the netted aviary
empty of people, lush with ferns and a footpath
that led up steps to a bridge. Mottled brown,
dabbling on the surface, head dipping in and out
of the water, scarcely distinguishable from foliage.
Duck, I said and pointed and quacked and, like that,
it was gone. What is a thing before it is a thing?
Green-winged teal. How language dawns slowly,
then all at once, perception matched to meaning.
The tiny eye opening and closing; dry, whitish lid
working up and down from the bottom, reptile-
like, feathers forming neat, interlocking scales
of grey-brown, disguised as to be nearly invisible.
This isn’t really about a duck. Or the pointing,
the naming. The point is that I was there, saw
you seeing this creature for the first time—you,
motionless on the footbridge, water moving
below your feet, little eddies of light and motion
carrying bits of decomposing leaves and twigs,
debris from forest floor. Every day you make some
new utterance—ball, more, meow—closing the space
between the world you live in and your name for it.
To feel a thing before knowing it. Surprise. Hunger.
Spoon. Life a haze of felt thought. Or maybe not.
Maybe this is just about the duck—you, me,
the dappled afternoon. That tender, wrecked moment
before the duck was a duck, before it was anything
but a whiff of smoke, light thrown across the water,
which all of us were, once. Once time you saw a duck
on a pond, a green-winged teal, and it was the first
time such a thing had ever existed, light startling
off its back as it slid noiselessly across the water,
bill riffling under the surface, turning this way
and that, searching for something to eat, something
we could not see but knew all the same was there.