To a Duck

(25-30 December 1994) after William Cullen Bryant

You stand on one webbed foot by the downy shit-ridden bank of the cement pond in the park and stare inexpressively at me. Fins of ornamental carp break the surface of the shallow pond, but your brothers and sisters are on the banks, preening themselves or pecking in the grass. You are much less self-absorbed. I am not offering crumbs of bread, nor am I crowding near to herd you to the dirty water; I’m uncomfortably close. Why do I find you here, tempting nature? This busy park might seem an unlikely destination for your improbable flight. I also must have better things to do. From above, this crowded suburb is mostly roofs and trees, parking lots and streets, places I never see a duck, then this large reflective pond set in green. For you, the park mustn’t be worse than a marsh; the animals strolling by are benign vegetarian bipeds. But you are tempting nature by having catapulted into this territory of unpredictable omnivores. A joyous toddler could chase you into the pond, or a homeless person could decide to roast you over a trashy campfire under the bridge. For me, the park is a touch of the wild, a little less protected than my world of cars and computers. The pond is a window into the gardens of geologic time in which ducks expressed nature’s profligate ways better than humans could. I’m tempting nature by stopping here to think about this world in which a duck is not merely an ornament, a world I might decide to explore for more than a few minutes, but watch minutes slip into weeks, or years, lost to other duties. You’ve decided not to move, but to see what I will do. I’ve decided not to hurry off, but to measure my patience against yours. Some might say you have no choice— your instincts guide you. I believe I also do only what I decide.