• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 05
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Consort

There’s some whacky legend that the Swanson men once consorted with waterfowl.

So, when Timothy turned up with a duck tucked under his arm, I thought it was a joke. How delightful, dear, they’d say, slurping oysters. No one batted an eyelid.

I’d been unpeeling foil from the dishes when he arrived. There’d been strong demand for birds this year: blackberry-glazed chicken, guinea fowl tagine, stuffed garlicky hen, and a whole duck, the fattest I’d seen, skin crisped and oil-slick. I couldn’t help staring at it and then at Timothy’s duck. At the ridiculous wig on its head. At its eyes – god, its eyes.

I turned to my husband.

Don’t you think that’s weird?

Don’t I think what’s weird?

My husband was a simple fellow who left me mostly to my own devices – except when his family was involved. We had to attend every birthday, wedding, christening, graduation, and he suggested what clothes I should wear. I was on perfect behaviour today: chignon hair-sprayed, nails immaculate, nary a crease on my silk blouse. But I wasn’t good at the Stepford wife bullshit. I hated the kitchen. When I was a child, I had nightmares about being plucked from a vat of oil and slid into a giant oven. I’d blistered both hands taking the potatoes out that morning. The goose-fat had spit and bubbled at me.

My husband looked uncomprehending.

I whispered: Where’s Monali?

What?

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1

Please Do Not Waste This Time

He wants a job, a visa. He wants to enjoy the button-gleam, to be among the collage of his friends. He sits on a stone. The water is glass and his clothing rippled. It’s the kind of day that brings out white boards in Tube stations, melts a Pritt Stick, makes people go a little mad.

Across the water people are laughing and pointing at something, he cannot see what. But an oddity or someone’s misfortune has brought them out of themselves. They talk and move their limbs as though they were all friends, but there are too many of them to all be friends. He wants to enjoy. He wants to cut carefully around himself and join them. He remembers the blue-grey sky that heralds a sweaty day. He remembers when Tusk said, 'Please do not waste this time.' He wants a job, a visa, to melt into his friends. It is a day for barbecuing, for agonising over a crush, for sitting in a circle and not drinking enough water.

He thinks: Can't I join the collage? He thinks: I want my share of the button-gleam, to laugh with a stranger and afterwards tell my friends what I saw. I want to glue myself. He thinks: Don’t I have the right to waste a little time?

2

Heart Beats

Sometimes I wonder if you’re real. If I am holding you or you are holding me. If beneath all those synthetic feathers there is the hope of flesh, the uneasy promise of membranes and blood, of liver and an appendix, and deeper still, a heart.

I would like to put it in my pocket and listen to its arrhythmias on a Sunday. Would you like to blame me? Did I turn you into this almighty imitation of yourself? Did I not cut your crusts thin enough?

How pretty you were as a child. Sometimes I would like to kiss you on the lips and watch you open your eyes. You always did believe in fairy tales.

Sometimes I remember when you were just a dot. When your heartbeat began, as anonymous as a train from somewhere. It will slow down, the midwife warned. She didn’t mention that it could stop, that certain beats might go missing. Sometimes I see them sitting by the river with their shoes off, looking for a way back in.

3

Biding

it’s not the hair
it’s the faraway look
the gaze that speaks of dreams
of stuff lost
deep waters and dark knowings
belie the sunshine
I would come to you if I could
I would have always come
so casually he holds me
as if he’s not a jailer
I don’t sing his tune
or dance his steps
it’s all about dignity
and I can do that
I know          I know
don’t think I don’t
but I’m holding my head up
won’t give him satisfaction
and one day my time will come
he’ll set me down
he’ll turn his head for just a fraction
just a fraction of a fraction
splitting second split
and I’m off     away
the whole North sky mine
while I fly      circle over him
and shit

4

Facing Funny

A thatch of hair, or maybe bald -
tee shirt and jeans make nothing clear -
though warmer air and fuller leaves
suggest goose pimples not in play.

The duck and weave is everywhere,
warped tapestry or woof to scare,
with chuckles lined up in a row,
a wigging if the joke unclear.

The buttoned up may not relax -
while paddling madly underneath
less humorous, uncertain laugh;
others seek silver, crossing palms.

When choose to grimace or to smile,
to cackle, laying golden egg -
surrounded folly, hatred, greed,
to face the funny fits the bill.

5

Easter Bonnet

You promised me an Easter bonnet
to celebrate my first swim.
I thought I might lay you an egg,
an Easter gift to thank you
for your kind thoughts.
But this is a travesty.
A blond wig is not a bonnet.
You’ve made me look like a clown,
a Donald Trump duck
or a Boris Johnson.
I shall swim away.
There’ll be no egg for you
today.

6

Claude

My name is Claude, and I am some kind of bird. The other ones started to peck me when we were all together in the pen, so I have been kept apart. It is my hair they disapprove of. But this is a blessing, as I am taken for walks, most often held by my owner (or he may be a god, in fact).

People point and smile as we go by. I have become an ice-breaker. And he has even got a date on the strength of our novelty. It didn't work out, but that is because Brian, my owner, is very sensitive — to everything. And he cannot bear to be criticised. He did not take me on the date, but when he got home, at after eleven, he said she had said something insulting about his shirt. This all goes back to his childhood, you see, and how his father criticised him growing up — never giving him a kind word, or rarely — the perfect martinet.

On occasion, I begin to feel like Brian's partner — he tells me everything, even things I would put under the heading of TMI. Things about sex, and fantasies about it, stuff I have no business knowing.

It is sad, for I have no such desires of my own. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wish he would shave this yellow hair from my head, and make me like all the others. But no, I could not go back now, I could not be one of them even if I tried. My time with Brian has changed me, and I belong, for better or worse, with him.

I am Claude.

7

I’m not crazy

I’m not crazy I swear
But the day she passed it showed up on my doorstep
Wild hair and a honk that could rattle anyone from there seats
The wife used to honk at me to collect the posts and make some tea
Now I have this bird much like her
I’m not crazy I swear
Just a simple man with his bird
Tucked under my arm much like the wife would of been
Except this one messes the house unlike the wife who tidied it
The bird lives and breathes a wish I only had for another
So when you see me out and about with a wild haired bird don’t be scared
See I’m just at a loss without my spouse
I’m not crazy I swear.

8

Roasted Goose with Crispy Skin

The golden haired goose
churned the details
making sense
of the plunge to the river
and the strangeness
sleeping beneath the trees
and jets from beyond the river
the ground shook under the impact
of the dropped bombs
the rattle of bullets
the killed and wounded fallen
her stern and serious expression
to no avail would remain
wandering in hand away
held captive for now
along the green banks
protected by the gentle flow
of cold river water
and the pale blue sky
as she felt her weight lifted
in this peasant's arm
with one last look at the river
they turned and climbed the
path leading to the kitchen.

9

Fair is Fowl and Fowl is Fair

We left Mama sleeping in lime light the morning of the Spring Fair, and even when Daddy’s truck coughed into life in the yard, the curtains didn’t stir.

We bumped across the ruts of the track, its edges erupting with golden daffodils, and Daddy turned up the radio full blast. We sang snatches of familiar tunes and laughed all the way into town.

And, suddenly, there we were, wrapped in the middle of a happy throng — an orchestra of voices, a potpourri of smells and a carnival of colours. Apple-cheeked faces and crinkled eyes met across stalls piled with jars of honeyed sunshine tied with string bows, ruby jams with jaunty gingham hats, and loaves as brown as the farmers’ weathered skin.

Like the yellow brick road, strands of golden straw led the way across the cobbles, the earthy scent of manure deepening with each step. The hoarse brays of donkeys, the trill of nanny goats and the cluck of chickens played as a backdrop to the auctioneer’s monotone babble.

I climbed on the rung of a wobbly gate and she waddled over — a dirty white duck, cocking her head to one side. And there she stayed, just looking at me.

‘Can we take her, Daddy? Please?’ I clasped my hands in prayer and studied Daddy’s face. Behind his eyes, I saw Mama with her hands on her hips, deep lines between her eyebrows.

She clucked and lifted one webbed foot.

‘We can’t let her have a tantrum,’ said Daddy, and, before I knew it, Katy was ours.

She was carried by my father back through the fair.

Read more >
10

The beauty

But you realize it's not your place to determine which life may remain living because it is beautiful, nor which should be put down because it isn't. These are your criteria, your frustrations. No one else questions such things because it's life and, yes, you could say "Without it you'd be dead," but it's more than that, isn't it?

It's not the sorrow or the agony or the shame that's going to end when life is extinguished by whatever hand, takes it. All of the unpleasantness of this world can be dealt with here and now. But you've got to accept what you've done instead of merely letting shame overshadow everything else.

You're missing the whole point of being alive. Doesn't it matter that everyone else has things they're saddened by, things they've done and said, things they did or failed to do when the moment called for it, things they wish they could go back and change?

But none of these truths soften the blow of your own mistakes. You hurt a lot of people. You, the "ugly" waterfowl—you did a lot of damage before you discovered none of it could ever be undone. Even if they forgave you, they would remember.

Then you learned that you too would remember, that it was you, not they, who failed to forgive you. The real mortification comes in the following bit of revealing, doesn't it?: You wanted to do the right thing always, to say the right thing always. To impress them and yourself, to make yourself believe you were good.

The ones who endured you as a "guest" in their house never told you, did they? No one attains perfection, not the kind you're looking for. To go through life having made no mistakes, having hurt no one, with no regrets to haunt and hound you into remembrance?

Read more >
11

Goose

I’ve prayed to St. Wulfstan for help
and, in my many hours of need, St. Jude,

“Ah! Men” I say! and while admiring
the cornflowers, buttercups and poppies

begged Mary Magdalene to intercede
but all to no effect, so I’ve resolved

to wear this strawberry blond toupee
dredged up out of the lily pond.

A little loose around the crown maybe
it does the job of hiding the bald spot

where our randy gander clamps my head
with his sharp and merciless beak

to have his feathered way with me each day
at feeding time behind the tractor shed.

12

Safe

Whose is this,
shouts the man dressed all in blue,
— this yellow goose
like a doll in a wig?

The colour is an offence.

He has stopped by the boating lake
annoyed at the Hebe flowering mauve
and the golden blooms of poppies.

His log book edges
from his blue jeans pocket
and his turquoise pen winks at the sky. He
pushes it back in
where the blue ink spreads
across his thigh.

The goose
won’t look at him
not even sideways, but

She tilts her head in thought
trying to understand
what bothers him so much.

A red boat passes on the lake.

She feels the warmth of his arm cradling her
downy belly, holding her safe.

13

Mother Goose

Mother goose, confuses goslings
when she titivates her crown
with lemon-luscious locks.
She seeks to lure her friend -
polo-shirted, blue and kind
into trans-species love.
See the wistful longing
in her button eyes, a gaze
reserved for ganders
until now her heart's ablaze.
Her children slink away they've lost
their mother to a toupée, donned
to catch a homo sapiens. Sadly
such step-fatherhood is doomed
by lack of shared language.
Honk, honk lacks all meaning
in this man's waxy, hairy ears.

14

Feather and Flesh

Joel likes to walk. We’re both bipedal. But my wings don’t work to offset my stride the way Joel’s arms do. And although he’s patient, he walks for exercise, and I can’t keep up. So, he carries me under his arm, snugly hoisted on his hip, his gait reminding me of the choppy waves of a troubled lake. I enjoy our walks through the woods and sometimes we go down the lane, past some of the shoppes to glance inside the windows at the latest fashions or admire the atmosphere of a local coffee house.

I don’t mind the attention we get.

“What’s that you got, Buddy? Dinner?” or “Did she get away?” or “Going to set her loose on the river?” or “That your girlfriend?”

The latter remark was from a brace of young boys who took off at a run, laughter falling behind them like loose feathers in a wind. Joel doesn’t mind most of the curious stares or remarks but the boys’ remarks that day hit their mark. I could tell from the extra heat through his blue shirt and his tense muscles.

A dip in the lake would remedy that.

So, we headed for a woodland pond where – wing and arm – we swam on placid waters. Joel floated, face up, admiring the clouds while I quacked at the less fortunate fowl who flew overhead. Always looking for a place to rest. Fly on, poor homeless cousins, I called to ducks and geese.

They don’t approve of our relationship either. Humans aren’t the only bigots.

Then the boys came. They took Joel’s clothes and tossed them in the water. When Joel swam off to collect them, one of the brutes splashed into the shallows where I paddled in circles and grabbed me by the neck, stuffed me in a burlap sack, and ran off with me. Read more >

15

Imprinting Is A Thing

At the start we all thought it endearing. Then, as time passed, maybe a little bit odd. But we all just accepted – imprinting is a thing. The boy had cared for that egg ‘til it hatched and voilà! Never one without other; first at school, then to work. They were our very own, small-town eccentricity, living happily in our midst; often seen out and about in those days, for a chat or a laugh.

As the years stacked up, the boy became a man, but he never did pair up to settle down. There were questions asked, of course there were> The town didn’t have so many young bucks that it could afford not to keep an eye out for possibilities. But little pressure was applied and no offence was taken.

Years passed and, as is always the way, all too soon those years turned into decades. By that time the only remarked upon fact of the man and his bird was that that goose had reached a remarkable age! No one could tell of another.

Then a particularly harsh winter had snow on the ground for nearly three months solid, and hardly anyone saw anyone; we were too busy keeping out the cold. But, after the thaw, when we all turned out to compare our tales of hardship and adventure, there was little sign of Ben and his goose, beyond just enough sightings for folk not to feel the need to pursue a re-acquaintance.

Afterwards, of course, we all voiced the misgivings we had, and cast about for workable excuses as to why our voices had remained silent on the matter. Yet it wasn’t until the Easter picnic that Ben finally turned up with Bill tucked securely under his arm. And in that moment, after all those years, we finally realized just how close they were. On that day, when a now quite bald Ben gave in to the whim of donning a toupée... and Bill did too.

16

Don’t Call Me Marilyn

I remember watching them all walk away, his hand under my belly. I loved the way he would hold me when I was tucked under his arm. That was why it was so easy to do it, to watch them, at first waddling and then moving upwards. One by one taking flight. I am a sucker for comfort. Once you get used to being carried around it feels unthinkable to walk anywhere. I became spoilt, you see, and to use my wings felt like too much effort.

They left me behind because of the wig. I know it. The stupid little wig I didn’t even know I was wearing. It’s so light, you can barely feel it. And the way he’d placed it so carefully when I was sleeping, none of the hairs flopped into my eyes, nor tickled any part of my sensitive head. I was oblivious to its yolky presence.

Was it my fault that I followed him home one evening, after he’d spent an hour or so holding me just so, and slept in his front garden? Maybe.

After they left I realised this man’s dream was to keep me tucked into his left side, a goose in girl’s hair extensions forever. I told him I would never be his love, not in the way he wanted me to be. In spite of my strong words, which were accompanied by a lot of flapping and honking, he still insisted on calling me Marilyn.

Forest water shadows
Sunlight blinds the last view
V formation flight.

17

Whispers

Just a bird in the hand they whisper
Sipping their Pimms and their gins
By the lake of still waters
With me in their sights
They hope to send me packing

I have made my face like that surface
A glass full of smiles, a mirror
Reflecting back received mores
A mask, plastic, botoxed and plumped
Fluffed up, primped, plucked

A preening puppet they think
Let them drink and sink their envy
There are plenty more fish in the sea
For girls like me
Who know how to play the game

18

ANONYMOUS WAS HERE

The mid-region, chest to nether,
no top or bottom to judge the whole,
too near, but holding onto something
close to the heart in casual confidence.

This is all we see of anyone who keeps
out of sight by being invisible, unnoticed
while slogging through their own world
going going going gone in their hundreds

and thousands, passing under scrutiny
except when carrying a non-domestic
creature – then we are interested in that.
Why they’re there, whether out of their

place or we’re touristing matters not.
We’ll stop to stare, interfere with words,
poke into their business uninvited, ask
stupid questions until we’re satisfied.

The world is full of faces, legs walking
where they must but our focus often finds
the middle ground, judging gender, style
and shape...but also the expanse/expense

of presence and purpose in our spaces.

19

THE GOOSE THAT LAYS THE GOLDEN WIG IN A FAIRY TALE

I’m a popular guy these days.
The media can’t get enough of me.

Everybody keeps following me around,
waiting for the next hairpiece to drop.

I’m singing a song the whole day long,
“The bird, bird, bird, the bird is the Word.”
In the beginning was the Bird. Haven’t you heard?

She rides around in the crook of my arm,
like a good luck charm against reality.

You can’t say she’s a hypocrite—
she wears her own wig, after all.
You’re looking good, babe!

The laws of Nature don’t apply anymore.
It doesn’t even matter what’s false or true.

It was the will of the American People—
their Last Will and Testament.
It was the will of God.

It was the old woman who lived in a shoe.
(She had so many wigs, she didn’t know what to do.)

Who will be next to get behind me in time
for this golden opportunity? Will it be you?

(You can’t see it on my head,
it’s been cut out of the picture—
but because it’s there, all this is true.)

20

Waffle

My Uncle Bill and Aunt Dixie lived on the edge of town – or so they called it. Really it was an eclectic hodgepodge of matchbox houses sparsely littering the banks of the Mississippi River.

Each morning at the crack o' dawn, Uncle Bill would feed his little lady, Waffle. Shuffling out the front door in his slippers, he would spit to raise hell and mutter loudly,

"Where in tarnation is that blasted creature?!"

Sure enough, the too-big-for-her-britches Waffle would appear from her nightly hiding spot and dance her way into my uncle's weathered arms. Oh how the tawdry neighbors and their red Cadillac looked down on my uncle's profound attachment to that duck, but he didn't seem to mind.

"Waffle girl" was family. To this day, I'm not entirely sure she was a girl...but Uncle Bill enjoyed the company of his little lady. And so the name stuck.

21

That went well

It wasn't quite the first date she expected.
They shared some harmless viral chat; the duck
brusquely declined to quack or flap her wings.
While he stayed buttoned up, clouds enacted
heartbreaking manoeuvres over the lake,
and malice seemed deprived of its cruel fangs.

"You know, as in the President?" he smiled
when at last she asked him what was that stuck
to his companion's head. One of those things
that went over hers, apparently, called
       a "joke".

22

Iridescent Camouflage

What would it take
To wet your wings
In this season's
Salubrious consonance
To bring the spring in your
Flaps
For some wisdom to accrue
From the artisanal things you pursue
On this bright summer day,
As you check the waters
With a few tentative dips
And the pleasurable sensation
Bubbles over
From the deep blue waters
Catching you unawares
In your blithe reverie
Oblivious to any care
And foregrounds you to a growing
Awareness of him,
That tall, strapping lad who
Took you in his care
Held you closely in his hands
That wouldn't leave you even
For a moment,
Who was equally at ease in the
Sea and on the land,
A perfect gentleman
Who took you under his wings
Read more >

23

Beaky Lips

I shouldn't have carried you                                            so close.
I should have thought twice
about kissing your beaky lips
and never made a promise
to love you forever.
But I was a tempted,
weakened by your unusual shape
and feathered presence.
I fell under your spell,
flying without wings
in the sky of eternal illusion.
Now I'm at the altar
of no return
in the foulest of moments.

24

Leda &

Unclear to me if goose or duck;
What ameliorated fowl in hazy photo’s scrim
What shirt a kind of sky blue, nineteen seventy four
A small yellow wig askance and stuck,
An inverse Leda unperturbed and almost prim,
The fallow farmyard’s windows a pre-war
Paintjob muckup precisely neither white
Nor cream, stripping down in trim
Lazy bathers, a pond, paramours,
Dappled in the little Leica’s afterlight –

This our new antiquities;
The seductions of our
Long-absent gods.

25

Call Me Easter

The Lady of the Lake’s hands buoyed me, a
floundering drake atop glassy waters, ‘til gifting
my panic to a denim blue farm boy on shore who
cradles my belly between his elbow & forearm

my downy body compressed like a pillow
against the teen, left me gasping for air,
seeking reprieve in the sinful lagoon where
tears pool into the tarn—nature’s baptismal font

thrashing like a clueless saffron-faced POTUS or
prime minister, my ebony eyes glanced through vagabond
strands of a straw-yellow hairpiece, gazing afar at
feathered flocks—freedom on wing flying north

as if in mourning, I watched my present glide into the past;
restrictive movement prevented me from joining either
through actions or memories, doomed to recall
intermittent, quixotic quacking as the Lake Lady’s perfect

palms & slender sylph-like fingers rescued all that’s
dysfunctional, delivering me from nothing but my
pathetic fowl fortune: an inability to lead ducklings,
inspire followers—let alone fatten-up for dinner.

26

Wedding Day Jitters: Pinch Me, Please

I’ve been called an odd Duck most of my life. Who hasn’t? A Quack even. A less commonly bestowed compliment, I am sure. Especially when I start pondering the meaning of life – between the lines – and predicting the Future. Ready or not, here we come. Reading tea leaves, studying palm cracks, and assessing genetic lines. Deciphering the mysteries of life. All for 25 cents a Pop. Sometimes Fizz. Nothing in life’s a guarantee, anyway. And sometimes the Future has a leaky seal.

Never did see mine coming, though. Fancy that. Mama always said G-d laughs as us mortals plan. Putter. Potter. Poof. When I wasn’t watching, my own future took a hard turn right, then left. Threw me a 360 and then dropped me in a pot of pure magic. A sturdy kettle, soldered with kindness the color of snow. Touched by care as soft as a young duckling’s powdered, velvety head. Scented of lavender baths, hand spun raspberry mittens, and crock pots full of savory chicken soup and succulent beef pot pie. My favorites. My Beau. A potion working a magic all his own. Look at me – His Bride – now. Ebullient. Radiant. My locks colored blond and piled on top of my head. A tiara. My lips the color of autumn. Depending on the day, deep reds, lush browns, rich pinks. Today – my wedding day – I chose a dark cherry. Happiness on a stick. My feet a web of nerves and interlocked digits – stuffed in borrowed crimson heels and crisscrossed for good luck. Once a Fortune Teller, always a Fortune Teller.

Dressed in a traditional off-white. Surprising even myself. Superstition persists. Something borrowed – a shiny pink bobby pin, something blue – corduroy britches, something new – my gown.

An out-of-body experience of being both blessed and terrified all at once. Is this real?

Do the others see me as the Quack I’ve been termed for so long?

Read more >
27

Mirror Games

The sky in faded indigo denim today, creased and
worn, a mellow sun warming the seams that fuse

his halves together. He flicks a taut thigh, as if the
duck that rose to brush against him has left a

feather, a crumb of lake, a stain of moss. The water
holds his face with damp fingers. For one moment,

the sky becomes the mirror of the lake. The duck
splashes down, undoing them. The game never

changes. The water collects his scattered parts.
Rebuilds him. With that damned duck under his arm.

28

IMPLACABLE FRIENDS

We’re two unreasonable allies
In times where everything around us burns profusely and not even the water can save us
I remember when we started a fight and then were convinced that we should walk side-by-side to fight the fear
Is this elaborate? Or has my conscience left me behind, galloping towards sweet, darling Mars to salvage herself from the complete destruction. I’m booking a ticket, since 2033 feels oddly near.
Teetering thoughts aside – and while I don’t know for how long our friendship will last, I learned to appreciate a moment of introspection and maturity.
So, here we are, standing –
Awaiting for a future grim and such.
They said, “Just follow the river delta.”
No one knows what we’ve seen; the beautiful daylight is doing a great job at masking the odium (not) felt by those who brought us here.
I’m wondering if the only solution for two implacable friends is to simply duck out – if I were to put it in common words.
But the look in your eyes – a sparkle I’ve rarely seen, drives me towards the open borders of hope and resistance. Trivial, perhaps, yet much needed.
I can’t hide from you that, in all honesty, I was completely startled when you found me the other night, wandering off and losing myself to occasional thrills and made up contentment. There’s no time for that anymore.
There may be no words left to be spoken, other than sporadic mouthings challenging our Beckettian futility.
Read more >

29

Free Market Capitalism

Join the navy, a picture of Uncle Sam beckoned,
at least I think it was Uncle Sam, I don't know,
I was pretty high and very homeless.

It's got to be better than the life I am living now
I said to Uncle Sam, or whoever was on the poster
before wandering inside the recruiting station.

Sign me up I said, sharks circling sensing weakness
No questions asked and none answered, the recruiters
shivered orgasmically as I signed on the dotted line.

Turns out that I was wrong about that just like everything else
when you are homeless people only yell at you sporadically
in the navy they yell all the time and make you exercise.

Plus, let's not forget the PTSD. Uncle Sam never mentioned
the fact that I would wake in the middle of the night sweating
and the best they could do for me at the VA is this
ridiculous emotional support duck.

30

The Retrospective

An ocelot,
in double denim. Or the goose, in a wig of cheese-
string yellow. Even a snake, coiled
in its own fake-furry assemblage, thrown together
without command, sourced
from boundless impulse, and chosen
after all necessary deliberation expended
for a great day out
of one’s choosing.

It was an Eden. It was amongst the proudest
epochs of history

                                       that years later
when it had all been forgotten – a memory
rubbished and re-written, as if it were not
expression, not natural, not intended but
something dangerous and other
worldly, a false belief and
its artificial idea, even
though they claimed to be men, and despite those
who shouted at it, and shat on it, and vowed against it
being made –
would be looked upon, with eyes
themselves burnt-out, self-suffocated into ash, black
holes
that hauled in their sympathy, and the knowledge
of all that was accepted, fondly, and miserably,
during that more optimistic time,
in their slow, desperate voyage
to the slaughterhouse.

31

Bad Hair Day

My normal hairdresser was not available today. As you can see. And I am not happy. As you can also see. I have trouble with my hair at the best of times, but you’d think that any halfway decent stylist would know how to handle quiffs. This one, oh my goodness, where shall I start?

‘How about a comb over?’ she says, airily. ‘I’m Tracey, by the way, call me Trace.’

‘My hair,’ I tell her, ‘is very fine. Very fine indeed. A comb over won’t hold.’

I’m about to add that I’m no Don Draper either but the phone rings.

‘Hold on a mo, ducky,’ she says. I’m left there tapping my toes while she chats for about fifteen minutes.

‘Sorry,’ she says, when she finally gets back. ‘It’s a wedding. Now, where were we?’

I can’t think of a witty riposte so I say nothing.

‘Okay, we could go for a mohican.’ She hesitates. ‘Get you a coffee while you’re thinking about it? Milk and sugar?’

‘Cold water will be fine,’ I say. ‘Trace,’ I add, with a small cough. What kind of name is that? My normal hairdresser is called Samantha.

I flick through some of the hairstyle magazines while she’s in the kitchen. I can hear her giggling with the girl who’s been sweeping the floor and giving me sideways glances. When Trace comes back, I point to a pic in one of the mags. ‘That one,’ I say.

She looks doubtful. ‘That’s a Skin Fade, darling,’ she says. ‘Are you really sure? Shall we get Shirl to shampoo you first?’

I waddle over to the backwash sink. Read more >

32

When A Duck Sells His Soul To The Devil

When I asked for eternal life, my days were numbered. The eggs I laid were soft and dark, crumbling when they touched the dried mud banks along the pond. Had I been aware that my reincarnation would be in rubber form, I may have reconsidered my decision. But I can’t really complain. One should expect these things when they make a deal with the devil.

Some days I will wake up (or just come to awareness, I suppose, since lifeless ducks don’t sleep) to see my owner has put me in a new little outfit. Once, it was a purple-feathered boa acquired from a flea market. Another time, a sailor uniform, the kind Donald Duck wore in the cartoons. These days he’s into wigs.

In the beginning I would angrily quack at him, fiercely trying to communicate that I have dignity, regardless of my current body. But it was useless. The only sound I can make is this ridiculous high-pitched shriek when my side is squeezed.

Still, I have come to enjoy the oddities of this new world: the domestic sounds of a washer and dryer inside my owner’s home, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the way it feels to be carried around without moving my legs. Sometimes I even like the strange costumes.

The best days are when we drive to the pond. We sit along the banks and I pretend to close my eyes, imagine myself swimming around with the rest of the ducks. At first they look at my artificial body with contempt. Fake fowl, they call me. But once they see me paddling like the rest of them the prejudice fades away. The day comes to a close and I am invited to their home within the reeds. I think about it, then kindly decline. I have a new life, I tell them.

33

The Rt Hon Drake Anatidae MP

The Member of Parliament has become a duck,
which for him is some rather marvellous fortune.
Government not calling, his career was stuck,
but the Member of Parliament has become a duck.
Now he’ll be more famous than his wig, what super luck:
guaranteed attention when next the voters are importuned.
The Member of Parliament has become a duck,
which for him is some rather marvellous fortune.

34

14 August 2022

The President died on 14 August 2022. At first, the government managed to keep it quiet, allocating an assistant that was making less than the minimum wage of the District of Columbia to take over the Tweets. The assistant, an Ivy League graduate, $124,000 in debt, jumped at the opportunity with fervor. He happily locked himself in a basement room and typed like he had no control over his limbs anymore. ‘GOOD LUCK TO OUR CHAMPIONS AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES. THE GREAT STATES OF AMERICA ARE BEHIND YOU! Gold!’ He was not allowed to mention the empty stadiums that were expected, nor the fact that the American delegation was down to one child prodigy gymnast and two dressage champions.

Above the assistant, the scene was a little more hectic. The President had died in circumstances that were less salacious than those that had routinely been bet on in the office. The reality was in fact much more embarrassing. Having the President succumb to a disease he had up until the moment of his death insisted was not a real threat, but in fact a plot to overthrow him from the ‘liberal fascism elite’, was not the best way to reassure the country.

The staff that remained alive and working in the house that was once white and built by black hands strategized for days after the President’s death. The assistant continued to mislead an eager audience. For a time, a blow-up doll that used to live in the President’s bedroom was brought into the Oval Office and dressed in an expensive suit, size XL. The doll would wave in sudden, spastic movements every time the door opened and shut. These movements kept the media reassured that the leader of the free world was administering business as normal. The blow-up doll came to an end when a senior staffer aimed a row of staples at its head with a makeshift slingshot.

Read more >
35

Goose Girl

I’m taking you for dinner, he said,
plucking a quill to write fear on my flesh.
He’ll order me a salad, watch me graze,
defying my gaze to wander, and later
he’ll pinion me, squeeze me too tight,
weighing me against the rest,
a test that tells him I’m too tough,
not tame enough.

Silly goose, he’ll say, you know I love you
just as you are, but I might love you more
if you were slimmer, blonder, more demure.
Don’t you want us to have a stronger bond?

I don’t like your gaggle of friends, fermenting
their crop of lies, nor your flocking family,
wings more stifling than a duvet. Get out
from under them. I’ve made you a nest,
you’re a home bird now, no more strutting,
puffing your chest for others to gander.

I’m taking you for dinner, he says, plucking
another quill, writing dread on my breast,
locking the door. I try to take off, beating the air,
pounding the floor. Silly goose, he says,
you know you can’t win.
That’s when the sky fell in.

36

ON GEESE AND OTHER DELICATESSEN

You’re such a goose, you tell yourself over and over again, letting people cut you open and leave you to bleed out, stuff you with their bullshit, then eat you alive, though real gourmands like it well done and hot, I guess.

It’s all about setting limits. I need to surround myself with positive people, people who’ll help me realize my potential, I guess. But then, no one asks a goose what she wants. Not that she asks.

He’s the man, the audience cheers, eyes on the grinning chef with plenty of towels to clean up the mess he didn’t make. It’s a win-win, I guess. He likes cutting; they like watching.

The best chefs let the others do the filthy part, like to imagine their geese were killed in an accident, so basically it’s nobody’s fault. Gordon removes the neck first, then pricks the skin all over with a needle. The best way to an audience’s heart is to show it you care, please it, involve it, bring your charisma and passion, make it fun. Nothing is more memorable than the aftermath of a good killing.

The gravy should come in the end. Hearts will miss a beat as he presses his fingers and thumb against each other, grease on his bone-white shirt, before digging his hands in my flesh. A goose can be stuffed like any other poultry, he’ll say knowledgeably, as long as you choose strong hardy flavors that can stand up to its meat.

The rest is a well-known fact: preheat the oven, put the goose in the roasting pan, breast side up, roast, eat, if you’re good at chewing, and always, I mean always, make sure the kitchen walls remain clean.

37

Lakeside

I hold him close
and he looks out
across the water
and I wonder what he sees

in winter
when air numbs lips
the water is a mirror
of another winter’s day
the scene
slipped through
the seam of the surface
slightly shifted
to accommodate a breeze
he perches in my arms
and I wonder if he notices

when the sky is illuminated from below
and he cranes his neck to see
at the top of everything
where the mirror has become ink
and ink is diluted
the higher it reaches
behind gold crowned billows

or in spring
when cold no longer
mourns but invites
promise of new life
Read more >

38

Blonde Ambition

Tree-bathing, they said, will make you feel well
I had been feeling off-colour, they could tell

Get someone to take you away from this
Leave the farmyard behind, make a behind wish

It seemed far-fetched for an old goose
To be fancy-free, let out on the loose

True, I was thoroughly sick of others
Whether the pigs, humans, friends, lovers

They expected an egg every day
For a handful of grain, eggs in relay

What was in it for me, I wanted more
A life as a dancer, or a matador

Horizons need expanding for all creatures
Hum drum work cannot be all that features

Each day had become so grey and routine
As I sloshed in the mud, old has-been

Then along came a partner not of my ilk
Be-jeaned, lean framed, with hands of silk

Like me, he loved life in the outdoors
He saw me, with my ambition and flaws

It was a leap of faith from there of course
To the point where he held me without force

Come quiet, my love, put on this disguise
A blonde wig to confuse them, wins the prize Read more >

39

Water play

The lake is a feature, a self-consciously wild place on the edge of the city, a piece of boggy ground wedged between the terminus where the trams go to sleep at night, an IKEA warehouse and a golf course. I suppose it must have cost too much to drain the land and build something equally attractive and beneficial to humanity, so the council dug a lake instead, with an island and the obligatory ‘beach’ where kids can raise watery hell in the summer, and a boating marina where the sea scouts can play at being pirates.

If you can tear yourself away from these worthy attractions, there is a pretty walk around the lake, wooded and fringed with sedge and water birds on the lake side of the path. It’s peaceful enough, if you can zone out the traffic hum and the tense atmosphere of the IKEA car park full of fractious kids and parents discovering that they can’t fit the flat packs on the roof of the car after all.

I’d walked around the lake to put as much distance as possible between me and the paddling area, and was sitting with my back to a pine tree, watching the sunlight playing on the lake water, when I was joined by another walker. Not joined exactly. He hadn’t noticed me and he wasn’t walking. He was looking for somewhere secluded to play with his goose. It wasn’t a real goose. It had a yellow wig. I could hear him murmuring to it, crooning, like a turtle dove. Tenderly, he placed it in the water, where the sedge grew close to the bank. I left when he took off his shoes.

40

Plucked, or fucked?

Was that the Golden Goose
plucked almost naked by the small hands of plutocrats
with feathers scorched off by the sirocco winds of industrial inaction
or by the children squabbling over the last egg in the mineral rich lands

She has been dressed in a wig of the style of parodied politicians
to give an air of authority
or ridicule
Either way it is not to promote her best interests

Do the answers lie in the arms of the holder?
She is carried nonchalantly – not with care, nor security
but with the assumption that she will behave, sit as bid
to enhance the image

His image
This buttoned up man-of-the-people
carefully casually dressed

But the setting is hers
this lake her spring home, these trees
that she happily inhabits

He doesn’t
His stone-washed denim saw no stones
Was washed in toxic chemicals
with a carbon footprint bigger than her life’s migratory mileage
He symbolises something other than symbiosis

So you think this image personifies spring –
Or the winter of life on this planet

Read more >
41

The Reservoir

Vulnerable visions
of home, I hear the calls,
my heart swoons
with the swan school
and willow trees
overlooking a reservoir

That is where I found you
my little vulnerable being,
alone near dogwood brush
hiding from an eager fox’s
high pitched scream

Your mother was dead
and other eggs eaten.
I grabbed your tiny yellow
body wrapping you in
my silk green scarf.

For the first week, I fed
you dried meal worms
and chick feed. Time passed
us by, and soon you decided
I felt like home.

We both return to the reservoir,
and I show you where we once
had met. Before you knew that
you needed me, and I needed you,
my little white feathered friend.

42

About the Author

Success O'Sheridan is an Irish duck based in Edmonton, Alberta, where she teaches English and Creative Writing at the Rossdale Language Institute on Inglis Street. A recipient of the 2019 PWC Emerging Writer Award, O'Sheridan has contributed short stories and essays to The Leotard, Abhaile and The Hearty Spoon, among other leading journals. She enjoys cross-stitching and boiling eggs. Quack City (2020) is her most recent work.

43

Blurred Lines

A picture is before me.
What should I write?
I look at the man sans head
And then at the goose (or duck),
I know not what it is,
But each time my eyes turn
Towards the blurred blue sky,
The green of land and trees
And to their subtle reflection
In the water body.

I like blurred pictures.
An angel once asked me
For a picture of mine
And to my angel I
Sent the most blurred snap.

Fine sharp lines,
I like them not.
So certain they are
As death, I fear them,
While the blurred ones
Like misted life reveal not
What the next turn hides.

The goose (or the duck)
Had it been blurred,
You would have pardoned me
For not identifying it right.

Read more >
44

Duck

We’d fallen foul of climate change and cursed the broiling sun.
The river dried up and the lake-turned-pond turned brown.

Around the pond, the grass crisped yellow, leaves fell early.
Our neighbours were rowing, and the postman was surly.

She was anchored by her webbed feet in the sticky mud.
Her head was pecked, and the feathers caked with blood.

Wounds had opened, exacerbated by the sun.
We found a pellet in her leg, discharged from an air gun.

The vet was no help, he was overworked and underpaid.
Duck was only worth the bother for the eggs she might have laid.

She was too traumatised and damaged to attempt to fly.
We fell for her placidness and the sadness in her eyes.

We made a yellow wig to cover up her scars.
She learned not to panic on the back seat of our car.

And then the deluge came, for forty days and forty nights.
In nice weather for ducks, she spread her wings and took flight.

45

Direct Action

Topped by hair chopped off
from her favourite doll, Lucille,
your daughter's toupéed your fattened goose.
She adores Lucille, has slept years of nights
face buried in her golden locks, scented
with vanilla. Your goose has no name,
no rights, it seems. She's destined to die
for your table. Your child decided
that was wrong. Helped by sharp scissors
she clipped and now awaits to see
if you, her father, has a gentle heart,
or if she'll run away, escape your cruelty.

46

On the Forest Floor

We noticed him,
spewing his rhetoric and divisive
speech, never expecting him
to actually win.

Quack, quack, he said,
and we thought: There is no way
they will ever buy into this.

No way that others will start
quacking in that voice. Then we
stood aghast as a chant of quacking
erupted, scattering multicolored
birds, sounds crashing through trees.

Held up by his running mate,
we are left to wonder, what will
happen next

on the forest floor, and if a more
beautiful hum might begin again.

47

Nature’s forgiving Spring

They know not your warmth
nor your unflinching gaze

those curves of comfort grooves
of unflappable feathers aligning effortlessly
with grieving fingers, to lessen
a quite existences lonesome taxes

they know not your varnished coats cooling grace
nor your Sunflower wig’s ability: to brighten lives.

Donald, I carry you
to view you favourite lake’s
resurgent Spring, once again;

walking by your resting place, I recall
that first glimpse of clustered jet-black feathers, lifeless
despair greased drip-marks as your palmate calling cards,
those long two weeks till your beady eyes looked out
beyond those horror stained eyelids
and you quacked your way into my heart,

we cleaned you up and that lake that claimed your kin:
you forgave and chose to reward us with witty antics
cultivating a lifetime, of nourishing smiles.

48

Don’t even ask

This is SO humiliating. My jailer is carrying me to the County Fair and proposes to enter me in the Pets Fancy Dress parade. No prizes for guessing which presidential candidate I am supposed to represent. He superglued this ludicrous wig onto my tender scalp last night while I was fast asleep. But why me? Couldn’t he find a compliant duck to fulfill his vainglorious dreams? Well, as soon as I am released, I shall goose-step to the nearest Democratic Party junket and never lay a golden egg for him again!

49

BETTER RABBITS THAN SHEEP

I detest Tories -
so tired of their stories;
disgusted at lack of morals,
no more fooled by verbal coral -
the promises of financial boom
which, as lullaby, they croon.

Some folk make me sick;
intellectual-hicks,
after a decade and a half
of torment, murder, and lies,
made me laugh
when they moaned about Labour
and the leader who cared
and then the sand-sweep
of oily-tongued rationalism;
and condemnation of non-conformist.
Better rabbits than sheep.
Better ganders than geese.

50

One White Lie

I swallow my heart in a beat and open my mouth for air—humid, sticky, tight—as I watch the Lie, wrap Itself around you. Galvanising fibres, snug like a second skin. Whispering to touch the tip of your tongue. Tasting of bitters and mint and strolls to the beach without meaning. Then taking your time, you turn it thrice on your tongue, like twisting a riddle, until sure and exhaling, you—

blow It out in a breath.

Unblinking. As he, eyes closed, inhales two-lungs full and we watch It, surround, crown and settle his mind. Then I look far away but stay, and count backwards from X, while a body-deep thud reverberates within these three walls, from the soft soft landing of a heart.

51

The Decision

Every day we did the same thing;

I'd go to work,
he'd go to the store with a list,
and he'd never forget anything.

And when I'd come home,
Dinner would be ready.

But that night,
Something strange happened.

I came home and there sat a duck
Nestled comfortably in his arms.

"Honey, what is this?" I'd ask,

He replied with, "I found her on the way home."

I wasn't surprised he picked up a stray,
he loved dogs and cats,
but a duck?
Was he okay?

"What do you plan to do with her?"
I looked into her beady little eyes.
"Perhaps, you should cook it!" I smiled.
"I plan to keep it," he said with confidence.

I was taken aback, aghast.
"We're not keeping a duck," I replied back.

"Why not?"

Read more >
52

Sometimes homecoming isn’t easy

Sometimes homecoming isn't easy
it needs a companion
a consort of the sorts:
something home is not a metaphor
for safe haven but a reminder of
those brackish memories

I neatly store under these warm layers
wind ruffling these down feathers
A yellow-tinged encapsulation
as you carry me home
in your warm embrace tucked by your side

Your fingers gently holding me
an embracing touch of acceptance;
I enjoy the ride back home
this alluring journey
an emotional peregrination:
is where my heart belongs

the ripples in the river
breaking the skin of it
eases my anxiety
the warm sun on the back of my neck
reminds me of the generosity
you showered on me for years

Read more >
53

THE CIRCLE GAME

                           black olive, dotted
                    beak, her vacant
               eye a semi-colon
            black olive, the name we
          brought into existence
      by pure belligerent
    chance
  once I had a palmful
of chrysalises, smushed
cigarettes,
chili
 flakes, & now
  you—
    a full duck
      is a black hole, or
                a satsuma
                                           wig
                                                            counting out circles in
                                                                           place & mind
                                                                                the ellipsis
                                                                              of this polo
                                                                shirt, golden indent
                                                                   of a belly-button
                                                                                        &
                                            my crescent fingers, touching
                                                                   makes a void
                                                            below the waist
                                                                           ha,

                                                     you lose

54

Ducks Welcome Here

The duck had been out all night partying: that much was clear. He woke up in a Belfast sink, in someone else’s kitchen. He squinted through his bloodshot eyes at his reflection in the window. His new hair was all awry. At that moment he wanted nothing more than to be back on his pond, gliding through dappled patches of sunlight and feeling as pure as the feathers on his back. But he was here, now, in this sink with a mad goose of a hangover and a ruined hair-do.

A whole hour he’d spent perched on a stack of cosmopolitans under one of those hair drying machines. It had gotten a bit toasty, the sweat had rolled off his back. Crispy duck. That’s what had popped into his mind. The women were sniffing the air and licking their lips, doing their best to not stare at him. He’d heard a few distinct stomach rumbles. Why did he have to book a lunchtime appointment? The salon had been vegan approved. The little ‘ducks welcome here’ sign in the flap at the door. They were all animals, the lot of them—couldn’t trust them as far as you could throw them. No wonder he had hit the champagne.

The duck rested his head against the cold tap. He blinked away blonde strands of hair. Images from last night whirred in his mind, in and out of focus. Dancing, flashing lights, selfie sticks. There’d been a man there too, kept picking him up and walking around with him under his arm, insisting he ran an animal friendly petting zoo. Urgh. The less he thought about it the better. The duck flapped out of the sink and dunked his head in a glass of water. A poor substitute for home. His hair was definitely ruined now. It had been a stupid idea anyway.

55

EASY PREY

in the hand of the man. Can't stop a human from being what it can. All polo shirt and soft focus of the river, pastel climate set to blur into pocket-sized recognition, and bleach, looked over, on the relative's window pane. As long as the buttons are okay, as long as the smooth hue of the recent purchase hasn't been washed away. My feet are useless, my bill toothless. I am made in your image, found nagging like a timed-out elder, waddling like a pregnant commuter, squawking like I'm working for commission and they're about to cut my pay. And you hold me here with my loose hairs, with my stray tuft of chest feather nerve where my wildness all but slipped away. My eye matte as the glue used to preserve. My beak jammed, wax in every vacant part of me, so long have I been propped up, guarded against, in this fashion, so long since our components were at play.

56

CEREA, THE STORY SO FAR

The federation were stymied. Two of their biggest players in the alliance had vetoed the invasion of the troublesome planet, Cerea. At the same time the economic bases were making their displeasure known via the military junta which had seized power on the gas giant, Oo-zae. This was exacerbated, as always, by the eternal prodding of the warmongering contingent on Zyrii-Ell.

A collection of pirates, thieves and assassins themselves, that particular rogue asteroid settlement was ever eager to set up a buffer to protect its own illegal activities. The problem was it had the ear of too many corrupt officials within the federation.

The fighting on Cerea went on. Certain leaders of the federation met in camera and decided to implement a certain Machiavellian gambit. They would hold a vote on proposed action as regards Cerea, while publicising through Galactic Media that the vote had NO LEGAL STANDING.

Hae-Egg was particularly pleased at this. The public announcement of the lack of actual intention associated with the vote would act as a soporific for the general citizenry of the federation who were raising an increasing outcry against military action against the Cerean government. He had found it worrying that so many Terrans were educated enough to spot a political con these days, and taken steps to rectify this by cutting back on the education budget on Terr.

He treated himself to a self-satisfied smirk. Let those unduly educated know-alls see through this vote-ploy. There was nothing illegal about it. It indicated to those elements within the alliance which chomped at the bit for carnage that Cerea was there for the taking without actually advocating invasion of the planet.

Read more >
57

CLARE’S HAIR

George held Clare’s hair back from her face while she heaved ineffectually over the toilet, then helped her to her feet and gave her a warm flannel. She held it over her eyes just long enough for him to flush away the hair that had stuck to his hand.

Clare wiped her mouth and looked at him with stricken eyes. “Hardly what you signed up for three years ago, is it?”

“Nonsense,” George replied firmly, “You’re still my lovely wife.”

Shrugging off his attempt to hold her, Clare grimaced into the mirror. “You can’t possibly fancy me now,” she said, and that night she moved into the spare room.

 

When she lost all her hair Clare tried to make light of it. “There’s no need to hold my hair back when I throw up now,” she said, but that night George heard muffled sobbing and invaded her self-imposed exile. Gathering her into his arms, he ignored her feeble, “I look dreadful,” and began massaging her shoulders.

“One day I’ll be bald,” he said, “and mine won’t grow back.”

Despite herself, Clare giggled, and George moved down her body until she yielded and reached for him. Kissing her mouth he murmured, “I love you, you silly goose – now come back to our bed.”

58

Amarelo

You could not say it
but I could tell you did not want to walk
so I carried you
like the day does when we’re awoken
its yellow tide that leads us into
the arms of the season

We have arrived
this is how it feels
it is the end of winter
it tears into our dreaming
it gives a rude awakening
it demands
a soberer vision

Of course I’d rather have a sabre-toothed cat
as a companion
but not even their long fangs could keep them
from going extinct

So here we are
two hearts like a dawn chorus
after the darkest month
hours
my shoes off
my feet blistered
you look out for water
and I never felt richer

Read more >
59

The Reincarnation of an American Pop Artist

Not Mallard, Bufflehead nor Canvasback—
instead, Andy returned as White Pekin.

Dressed in feathers, he appeared content.
Carried tenderly, human hand cradled

his body. Before my eyes, silkscreens,
flashes of soup cans, multiples of Marilyn,

triples of Elvis, leapt from my memory—
then Coke bottles, lithographs of shoes,

sketches of feet danced across road,
as I walked around pond. Though daffy

to muse, after his rebirth, do you think
Warhol wigged out at the site of his web—
footed feet?

60

The Tale of Boris and Dom

Boris mumbled
And fumbled
And good old fashioned grumbled
Oh how Boris adored his Dom

Dominic wooed
And shooed
And played the Wisened Old Fool
Oh how Boris adored his Dom

Saj
The wag
Found strange fingers in his swag
Oh how Boris adored his Dom

The rest
Did their best
For they knew this was a test
Oh how Boris adored his Dom

Dom was carrying Boris to the abattoir…

61

Nice Hair

Donald or Goldilocks,
the three bears have not been kind.
What's with your plastic stare, your hair?
Your mottled beak and harried feathers?
Where is your joy?
Why are you held aloft by a man
adorned in the attire of golf?
What of decorum? I'll not mention
your lack of clothes.
The pond with its reflection
mercifully recreating trees and light
ignores your obvious indiscretions.
Who taught you to tweet, to squawk?
How far afield am I in assuming it is more than
our national pride that you are bent on consuming?
That these shadows casting gray against your heart
are omens sent by the sun to warn us
and that the truth alone can warm our cold, cold blue.
I would wear jeans and stand pale in the light of global awareness.
I would mourn for the hollowness in your eyes
and cry for children in cages at the border.
I would feel shame to be so underdressed,
to stand in court with unadorned nature
and before God be laid bare.
No fig leaves can conceal our fetid awareness.
No physician can provide sufficient cure to reverse
the cancered lies. We wake up
and find another group marginalized.
Read more >

62

Donald’s Forever Home

As I carried Donald across the yard to the pond, I thought to myself, “He really is enjoying being carried!” This being my first duck, I hadn’t been sure how much ducks liked to be handled. He seemed quite content, safely tucked under my arm, observing the world around him from a higher viewpoint than usual for a two-foot-tall duck.

When I first thought about getting a duck, I was concerned that I thought the animal was great, but that the care for it would be too overwhelming. I researched articles on the Web from professionals to regular animal owners like me. With my home having an accessible pond about 100 feet from the yard, it seemed like my home would be a perfect match for the water-loving fowl.

The first day Donald came home with me we hit it off. He liked coming in the house and seemed to understand that if he needed to “go” he’d have to wait until he was back outside. He loved waddling around the kitchen, finding crumbs to snack on. Next, he would make his way to the family room. He would stand in front of the television as if wondering what it was. That first time I turned it on, he was hooked! Have you ever heard of a duck who likes watching the news?

Donald acquired his name, not because Disney had named a duck well, but because of his orange tuft of hair. It looked fake, awkward if you will. Of course, it wasn’t hair, it was feathers, but regardless it looked like a poorly made-up comb-over. I also found him unique by the strange color of his beak. It was almost as if he put that fake tanning cream on his beak just to darken it up a bit. I remember that cream from when my sister used it years ago. It turned her skin on her face and the palms of her hands orange! Anyhow, my unique Donald is now family and knows he has found his forever home.

63

Rebirth

These eyes saw roses and daffodils,
They saw the snowflakes fall,
They saw the beauty I wooed and chased...
They saw wars and bloods too...
Until all they can see is nothing.

Mock not my wrinkled skin;
It once bore fitly eyes-feeding biceps,
Honoured front pages of magazines,
Enchanted queues of fair-looks,
Won me unsolicited advances,
And tons of compliments...

Hey child, I wasn't born bald,
I wasn't born rickety;
The sun baked my hair by the strand,
Only the last of the strong ones survived;
And that, just a few.
The flakes of winter stretched my skin,
The heat of many summers burnt out its beauties...
I have worn time into rags,
And so it wore my being in rags.

Child, O dear,v Worry not,
You shall trail this path soon,
And you shall tell another child of your rebirth.

64

Don’t duck it

Don’t duck it
You’re plucked.
Puckered skin wrinkles your neck.
You’re reckless, enjoy the brinkmanship –
Flew in, didn’t think, didn’t check it out.
Now, it’s sink or swim.
Beak forward, you can do this –
You still peck!
They’ll never notice if you wear a wig.
Such fluffy stuff, bright yellow –
What a chick!
Duck in disguise, stare them all out.
Rise, black-beady-eye defiant.
It’s your skin, be bold in it –
Don’t let them body-shame –
You win, you’ve got the prize.
You’re not the ugly duck.
Pink is your colour – flaunt it, flamingo!
WTAF?

65

Blondie

Troy was at his favourite cafe when he overheard a conversation about reincarnation. God knows what he was drinking, but it piqued his curiosity enough to ask the two strangers to explain the term to him.

‘Reincarnation? You want us to tell you about reincarnation?’ the woman asked, intrigued that someone like Troy – all dungarees and hipster beard – would be interested.

‘Sure,’ said the man, simply. ‘There’s this case about a girl in Stratford. I think she was about two when she learnt to talk. And as soon as that happened, she was talking about these villages in Asia with so much detail it’s like she’s been there before. Thing is, she was just two and the furthest she had ever travelled was Bristol!’

‘You should start with the definition,’ the woman said plainly, before turning to Troy. ‘Reincarnation is when your soul is reborn. So, after you die, you can come back as someone else, or an animal, or insect!’

‘That’s right, that’s right. This girl, it turns out … well, she was an Asian man in her previous life! Her family searched the names and places she talked about and managed to track down who she was before.’

Troy sat through the entire conversation in complete silence.

‘Frankly, I don’t believe it,’ the woman said. ‘It must be a hoax. That family in Stratford was in cahoots with the family in Asia. They’re just playing the media. People do anything nowadays for a few minutes of fame.’

‘She was only two, for fuck’s sake. You can’t make a kid that age eat broccoli, let alone learn a fake story!’

At that point, Troy just stood up without a word to the two strangers and walked home. They were too caught up in their own conversation to notice.

Read more >
66

Quack

Who do they imagine I am? After all I am a duck. Admittedly, a duck dressed up as a punk. Apparently, I’m some font of ancient wisdom.

My owners talk to me as if I am one of them. How could I be? What race of creatures dresses up dogs in little coats and frilly skirts? Gives them bow ties and miniature Wellington boots? Takes them to have their hair blown dry and their toes and claws buffed? They buy them toys and ‘healthy’ treats. Even worse, they take them ‘walkies’ in designer bags or prams and pushchairs.

Odd. Very strange to lavish money on these surrogate offspring when ‘real’ children die: unfed, unloved and 'unpetted'.

Still, what do I know? I am a duck and my ancestors had their feet coated in tar so they could walk to cities to be sold at markets.

I should be grateful that I won’t end up as a Sunday roast. I won’t be fed until my liver almost bursts and is then served up as any form of foie gras. I won’t be platted up as duck a l'orange.

My life would be better if they didn’t try to make me eat all the vegetarian stuff they like. I long to swim on a river and get my feet wet and muddy. Above all, I want to gorge myself on fat plump worms pecked out by my very own beak. But c’est la via, as the French canards say.

I’d better quack a bit just to amuse them and reinforce their belief that I’m as wise as Pythia, the Oracle at Delphi.

67

MORAL OF THE STORY

If the goose you hold also lays golden eggs—
a gleaming, glittering, miracle everyday,
then never commit the same old folly
which the brainless farmer did in that story
because whenever I look around
at life’s little merry-go-round
that makes people giddy with greed
(though they have enough for their need,
yet they want more and more and still more)
and day and night hide and hoard and store.
The history of mankind bears witness
that those who think more is less
always pay for their short-sightedness
because greed makes them blind,
they grope and grope yet never find.

68

TWIDDLING THE KNOB

Rocking back and forth,
back to the 60’s, forwards to the present,
dusting off that old pocket radio I had as a kid.

Feeling once again in analogue control,
jockeying the dial, this way and that,
tuning out and in, in these touch screen times.

Hearing two stations roll into one,
snatches of a fairy tale interspersed with snippets
from an expert on male pattern baldness.

Where else would you
come across a sentence so ridiculous as
“The goose that… wore… the golden… wig.”

69

Have you met my friend?

Some say he is a little silly
Some call him ridiculous
Some even say he really “quacks” them up (oof)

It’s weird, people talk to him like he’s going to respond, as if behind his blank stare and unwavering mouth there is a soliloquy waiting to break the dam of his lips, or I don’t know, maybe...
Shakespeare’s hidden one hundred fifty fifth

He isn’t silent because he has nothing to say
He isn’t silent because he wants to turn them away
He isn’t silent because he’s worried about having the voice of a bird
He’s silent because what if they can’t hear him how he wants to be heard

And that’s why I am here.

I’m here to get him up in the morning
I’m here to get him to sleep at night
I’m here to get him where he needs to be

The little duck hair isn’t really about making a duck look funny, it’s about not being the funniest looking thing in the room
With the same blue shirt, day after day, he knows what they think and he thinks about what they don’t know

Because he doesn’t tell jokes or funny stories about me, they think he’s no fun
They don’t know he bought himself a duck float and me a man float

Read more >
70

The Duck Dreaming

of clear water / of pleasant weather / of an ice-
berg floating, ten per cent visible, slight, slithering,
swift and slow at once / to climb on it: // a ship
nine-tenth unmapped,

its white hump an only deck / to climb on it //
his newly trumped up hair ready to wave goodbyes
/ to say hello // the iceberg a time machine:
heave ho, fall,

ahoy / to say hello // to not be called THE TAME
BILL again / to not be called anything at all / to look
at lakes thawing // the cropped hairs ready to wave
goodbyes / to fly

/ to live in a land of snow and bread: to look like
it // to think of round eggs / to say hello and smile /
quack / to not be called THE TAME BILL anymore /
to escape this
man

// to think of the Mediterranean / to fly

71

Quackery

What if the ugly duckling stayed ugly? And we just cared less?

What if we actually listened, instead?

He’s waiting for me by the water’s edge. It’s overcast, the heat hanging close around my neck. Sliding up under my shoulderblades, like wings.

I crunch over sunbleached grass. The park has quietened as our shadows have shortened. Children’s ice-cream screams have faded. The lake is like a dirty coin. The air is sour, a haze of barbecue smoke and overfilled bins.

I pass two little girls, grass-stained knees and bowed heads, making daisy chains in companionable silence. I wonder why, as an adult, it is so hard to make new friends.

I move slowly, swallowing a burst of shyness. It sits like a stone at the base of my throat.

It’s as if he’s holding onto all my shortcomings already.

He isn’t as ugly as I’d heard. I don’t feel the dip of revulsion others have told me about. Webbed feet scratch across cracked mud. The greasy sheen of off-white feathers under midday sun. The notorious wig, an obvious glare of yellow felt.

His bill parts. “What brings you here today?”

72

Have A Gander At Boris

Boris the Pomeranian gander
Has been breeding again !!
Hallelujah and rejoice !!!
Another addition to the gaggle -
Four, five, six, seven? - more?
Imported from USA, now happy
Living in leafy Home Counties -
Averse to mainland Europe flight.
Prodigious amount of greasy spaff -
Prodigious mating (3, 4 or more geese),
Extrovert & honking call* - social
To all like-minded flocks; hostile
To invasive, hostile/alien species.
*Approximately, 'Carrie/Corbyn out'*

73

Carrot Top

Interviewer: So, Virginia, getting back to the new movie, did the new hair do influence the inner rage of your portrayal of the character Sick Susie?

Virginia scratches her cheek and leans her head to one side as if in a deep reverie. She has rehearsed this look in the mirror many times. Perfect she thinks.

Virginia: You know Graham, when my fans think of Virginia Siracruise, they think of the blonde bobbed karate kicks of Janet Plant in my action packed thriller "Leathers and Feathers."

Virginia takes a sip from her algae guava inspired organic smoothie. As she sucks on the straw she remembers the last time she tasted this detoxing disgusting mocktail. Sardinia, lying on a lounger, taking in the sun, sporting a polka dot bikini. That was when she met Julio the surfer, the cheek of him, stood right over her, blocking the sun. No matter she thought, that was then and this was now, she never tanned easily. Cream was the new brown this season as it happens, less lines to Botox.

Virginia: Or perhaps my character Pearl Webb, the long haired brunette I played in " Goose Footprints in the Snow."

Interviewer: I have to say Virginia, you killed that role. The crying scene when your co-star drowned off Niagara Falls was truly epic. Had you ever hand glided before or did you have a stunt double?

Virginia chuckles as if Graham is dim.

Virginia: I do all my own stunts Graham.

Virginia laughs a little louder.

Read more >
74

Two people who should never meet go on the Guardian Blind Date

Phil, 38, petroleum engineer, meets Elaine, 27, ecologist.

PHIL ON ELAINE:

What were you hoping for?
Easy conversation over good food.

First impressions?
She had green streaks in her hair. Exciting! My mother would absolutely hate that.

What did you talk about?
What we do for a living, her veganism, politics but not for too long.

Good table manners?
She got her phone out halfway through, and said she needed to text her housemate that I'm not a serial killer.

Any awkward moments?
I told her I entered a celebrity lookalike contest with a duck that looked like Donald Trump. It wore a blond wig I had made myself. She asked if I did it ironically and I had no idea what she meant.

Best thing about Elaine?
She told me what she thought about my job once, then bit her tongue for the rest of the evening. I appreciated the effort.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
I doubt she’d like them.

Describe Elaine in three words?
Unconventional, passionate, opinionated.

Read more >
75

It was an improvement, he thought

It was an improvement, he thought
He’d always been fond of geese
though usually on a plate with apple sauce

Marjorie had looked after him
since he was a hatchling
clucking around him

smoothing any ruffled feathers
listening intently to every tiny story
head on one side, eyes beady

She'd aged gracefully, he supposed –
that’s what you’re supposed to say.
He had no idea how old she was

when she died.
Reincarnation was a surprise
but a comfort.

So much easier to handle
than a girlfriend.

76

Natural order

You think me an excess of his order
My flight tucked under his arm
Wind deadened by this rag

How you mock him and despise him
His misplaced husbandry
I bet he drives an SUV

How removed he must be
From the rhythm of the earth
The creatureliness of creatures

Creationist, flat earther
How very opposite you find us
Power. Submission

Nature. Artifice
But watcher I would rather him
Rather him than you

It's the cleanness see
he does because he can
I see us as we are

Wild bows to wild
His hand on my belly
My eye on his eyes

77

His Eminence In Resistance

in a pique of vengeance
of bitterness
they seek to extricate him
carry him off from our farmyard
the center of his world

that he returns to former glory
towards greatness
reinforcing the compound
after wasted years of a new deal
controlled by kicking donkeys
of urban agrarianism
with facile talk
their unfulfilled promises

yet they seek to shackle him
place him far from the yard
remove his livers
impeach his soul
for they feel threatened, insecure

though he will remain energised
evade commandments
reinvigorate the farmyard
through a bossanova with vision
for it has begun while
his seminal tenure will be long

78

The need for touch

Touch, when age has chiselled the rhytids
and there is a slight pause before the duty-hardened greeting.

When even a passing winter coat will invoke the longing for
the phantom limb.

When just a clearing of your throat causes a backwards step.

A baby, although adequately fed, will die without touch.

Seen from incubator to orphanage.

79

Feng Shui

I don’t know what I am doing here. Bumped into him at the pool, he invited me over, me being me, couldn’t say no.

Brought him a pot of peace lilies, don’t think his wife likes it much. Yes, the gym instructor, the one he left me for. Nope, I don’t know what I am doing in their house.

Yoga Pants walks like a goddess. I try to look symmetrical.

“Tattoo?” she points to my clavicle. “Looks like a bird to me.”

“Duck,” says her man before he can stop himself.

Chuck-plucks-ducks-from-the-muck-for-a-buck. I try to remember how to smile.

Bach is in the air. The cake is berries. The wine is finding memories.

Dinner is stuffed peppers and quinoa. Mr Stroganoff is vegan now.

“Not even eggs?”

“Not even eggs.”

Thanks for being here, I am told. “Means a lot to both of us.”

From where I am sitting, I can’t see it properly. The bill, sometimes, and the head, but that’s about it. A spot of mauve tucked under his sleeve.

The doctor had called it an hemangioma, Google had called it something else. It was the tattooist who had made it un-ordinary. “Mandarin duck!” she had swooned. “You must get one too!”

Symbol of love. Complete the pair. Matching tattoo.

Read more >
80

The (Donald) Duck Test

If it looks like an ageing affogato, its bright garnish unruffled by blustering winds chasing about pristine lawns where trees disappear like international relations, relegated to oddly capitalised ejaculations, twittering thumbs pecking out kindergarten epigrams, plaudits coming from such gilded places as Ma’s Texas basement or a boiler room in Moscow,

If it swims like an iceberg sheared from a dwindling glacier, oblivious to the retreating snowline vanishing over the horizon like a septuagenarian’s suspect hair, honing in on great ocean liners, old iconic vessels named Hope for the Future & Equality for Women, bound for the ocean floor where concrete boots clasp the clay feet of all our old gods, & reason,

If it quacks like a giant man-baby, still nappied and breast-fed, grabbing hands flexing & clenching as it stumbles along, like a booze-addled fratboy newly peeled off the morning sidewalk, an antique heatseeking missile skimming the daisy tops, overseeing another failure to launch but now beyond shame or humility or even basic human understanding,

then it probably is what we never knew to dread – too late, too late! Now the trumpets sing a new refrain: slide your wig down that orange mess – we’re running out of face masks.

81

Belonging

Sometimes I went with them to the blind. Papa would wake me while it was dark and the three of us would walk down to the lake while the darkness bled from the sky, the beeches and elms across the water getting blacker and blacker.

I found the birds too quick to follow. Papa was only quicker sometimes. Often as not they caught him yawning as they broke for the sky.

Mostly I remember kicking my boots, looking down at the now-dirtied straw put down to cover the ridges and hollows of muddy water at our feet. Looking down but leaning into Mama, cold tweed against my face, waiting for some hot soup – big soft hunks of carrot and swede steeped overnight in game stock – steaming from the flask, steaming out into mist and damp of the morning.

Papa was the same everywhere. But out in the hide – or out foraging for things to eat along the roadside – Mama expanded a little.

Papa was a lousy shot, I think, but he usually caught a couple at least. Rollo, our lop-tailed spaniel went to fetch them from the reed beds or whatever shallows they fell in. Then he’d come back, with mud and I-don’t-know-what matting his liver-and-rice fur, and lay them at Mama’s feet, grey feather, green feather, white feather, pearls of water dripping from their feet, necks drooping in death like flower stems after dusk.

“Not to me, you dolt,” she’d tell him gently. But he didn’t listen.

Walking home Papa would say, with a kind of shy contentment, “I bagged four today.”

Read more >
82

Confit

My duck Boris has alopecia. It developed last year when he realised that eventually, some day, he will need to admit that he is in fact English, not French.

“Well when I went on Tinder all I saw were duck pics;
ducks doing volunteer work,
ducks drinking kale and wheatgrass smoothies,
ducks doing yoga in Peru,
ducks handing out lentil soup to the homeless.
I felt totally inadequate. My Simpsons memes were still reeling them in but once they asked about my humanitarian initiatives or travel plans, the lack thereof sent them running into some other duck’s arms.”

I became particularly concerned when I noticed Boris flicking back and forth between Twitter and Instagram despairingly, rubbing his head on a fence-post. I think that was when he started to go bald.

“I had a look in the encyclopaedia and noticed that all the most popular ducks were French and called themselves ‘canard’ instead of duck. Even the pics were different:
A tanned brown one lying in a pool of hoisin,
A tropical one with fake tan that was supposed to smell like oranges,
Another one that looked sticky and didn’t seem to be wearing shoes who boasted he’d been in the tanning salon for four hours.
It all seems a bit odd to me.
The decadence of it made me feel ill. But allons - y!”

I bought Boris the wig in the local doll hospital, it was quite cheap. He had abandoned Twitter and Instagram and was now on Duolingo most nights, learning how to conjugate etre and avoir, asking randomly for baguettes or directions to the bookshop. Read more >

83

Duckie

"Duckie!"
Molly's home.
I waddle towards her on my exceptionally large feet. She picks me up and brings me to our secret spot.
The barn-house attic is covered in fairy lights and posters cover up where the dark green paint peels. A makeshift runway takes up the middle of the room.
We sit down.
"Okay, Duckie. Let's practice."
Molly puts me down on the runway and I waltz up and down it like practiced, throwing my head about proudly.
Molly claps enthusiastically.
"Well done, Duckie!"
I know I'll be great tomorrow. The first winner of the town's annual fashion show with webbed feet.
"OK, Duckie, let's decide on your wig."
I love Molly, she's the best.

84

They lick you before they eat you

“They lick you before they eat you.”

“What?”

“They lick you before they eat you,” he’d repeated.

We’d been at the animal shelter, looking at an accidental cross-breed of a dog that was fervently licking my hand.

We had decided to get a pet. I wanted a dog, he wanted something more particular. His observation about the licking was his way of letting me know that we would not, under any circumstances, be getting a dog.

For a while, he’d been captivated by the idea of getting a sheep and fitting it with a collar and a lead so he could take it for walks.

“Where will we keep it?” I’d asked.

“In a kennel in the garden, of course,” he’d said. “But we can bring it indoors on cold nights.”

I’d asked him to consider the risk of the sheep covering our home in droppings. And the fact that keeping one inside a house was probably illegal. So he’d made a list of potential pets. I’d given a firm no to a pot-bellied pig, an old-world monkey and a fennec fox that he’d wanted to call Fitzpatrick. I’d pointed out that all of those animals had the potential to lick.

But he was determined. And so that’s how we ended up with Mallory, an unusually rambunctious water fowl. He’d carried it home under his arm as if we were headed off to market and not a two-up, two-down terraced house in Hastings. It was going well until we walked past the reservoir and the bird got the smart idea of striking out for freedom.

Read more >
85

The Man Who Carried A Stuffed Duck Everywhere He Went

He’d bought the duck a quarter of a century earlier, from an antiques shop in a town he had visited only once. It had been a choice between the duck and a fox that looked – and smelt – at least five decades older. He normally cited the fox’s musty odor as his reason for going with the duck, but this was invented, and masked something more fundamental. He had felt drawn to the duck, taken by it. He had never needed to put it into words, this feeling, a bond as natural and weightless as air, yet as unbreakable as steel.

The duck was a ragged thing, mottled, stiff, and grey, but had not always been. Newly stuffed when he had acquired it, its feathers had been bright, the bill broad and flat, unshrivelled and proud, the eyes almost responsive. But the years had charged their price, as they do on all things, living or dead. Every week he would take a Polaroid, so he could track the damage done over time by mold, insects, and humidity. Three of his living room walls were now covered by these uniform images, which told a story of incremental decay, inevitability and dust, mildew and ruin. He found this sad, but not overly so. Despite the companionship and security it had offered, he had never needed the duck to be alive, and had never thought that it was.

He’d carried it whenever he went out, nestled comfortably in the curve of his left arm, for about three years now. No one had known about the duck, and he felt it was time to do something about this. He was retired now, so he had no employer to placate, no mornings inviting stares on public transport. Initially, people who knew him asked why he was carrying it. He would deflect them with a jokey “just making sure he gets some air!” or something similar. On the rare occasions he went beyond his neighbourhood, he appeared as someone who was simply in transit with a disheveled stuffed duck. No one had ever taken issue with the fact that he was carrying it. Read more >

86

The Bewigged Goose

What moves a man
to bewig a goose?
Sense of the absurd
Musings that this fowl
would be less foul
leading our nation
Having lived simply
off the land
Glad in its avian way
for sunshine on feathers
Soft grass beneath
webbed feet
Cool pond water on
a dry throat
Its honks befitting
its position
harming no one
It sits waiting
silent, trusting
Against a shirt
blue as sky.

87

No Snow Goose

Made of wire, its frame unseen
Took my goose where others preen.
Its little yellow wig on show
Presented her to all I know
Designed to draw attention
I wanted some reaction
Engineered goose, must pass muster,
Struts her stuff so all must trust her.
She turns her head, her eyes a gleam
Nothing is missed, nothing unseen
Internal camera looking out
Mechanised marching, little doubt
The only snow goose here today
A visitor from far away
Secrets observed behind the lines
For she is special, one of a kind.

88

Motherhood

Meandering along the bank,
she opens a door between the reeds
and waddles through the veil.
Hark-hark she orders
her soft feathered trail,
weep-weep they answer.

Prowing out on saurian oars,
at the touch of the cool lake
her feathers shake and bristle.
Wake-wake she cries
to the tiny shivering vessels,
weep-weep they reply.

Her bottle-brown head
plucks from her double
a crumpled green rush.
Hark-hark she calls
tearing it up for the sailing fluff,
weep-weep echo all.

From the bank, a family watch
with a dog held tightly on a leash.
Each, in their turn, yawns
bearing a vast hole
glistening with stars

it won't always
be like this

says the boy aloud
she won't, she can't
always be around

89

Searching

It was warm that Halloween. The grass and trees had a fried, omelettey tinge and the lake was as still as held breath. No footballers, no kids, no walkers, no dogs. No one at all.

Except for one figure. He had a lopsided gait and his appearance had changed a lot over the years. This time, he wore a sky blue polo shirt and stonewash jeans. He looked faded, like an old tea towel.

That’s what Rima thought. The teenager was at her bedroom window, surrounded by cardboard boxes and taking a break from unpacking, when she caught sight of him. He was stooped, scouring the ground, something held under one arm. Rima couldn’t tell what, so she grabbed her phone and zoomed in. He’d had her back to her, but then he turned.

“Rima!” her mother called at the same time.

Rima gasped.

Her mother was at the foot of the stairs. “What are you doing up there in the dark? Turn on the lights and draw the curtains, it’s dinner time.”

Hands shaking, Rima did as she was told.

At the table, she barely looked at her phone. Her brother, Rayhan, noticed. “What’s up with you?”

“Yes, you’ve barely touched your rice,” said Mum.

Rima poked a piece of curried chicken. “Mum, you know the park behind the house...”

“Oh, I found out something about that,” said Rayhan.

“Park? I thought it was private land, the landlord never said anything.”

Read more >
90

Mrs Cottrell’s Garden

I can’t remember much from back then but I do remember Mrs Cottrell’s garden. Rain or shine she kicked us out there in the morning. Any age, any size, any colour, out we went into the damp and the drizzle. If it properly rained, we all huddled under the corrugated plastic canopy while the droplets thundered above us like bullets.

I don’t remember details but I remember how it hurt in my tummy when I sat on her old white wicker garden chair, every morning. The hurt did go away eventually, usually after I saw you waddle up the path from the pond at the bottom of the garden. The first time we met, the older kids had stuck yellow fluff on top of your head to make you stand out from the other ducks. We all stood out here. Black with brown skin, brown with brown skin, yellow with pink skin and even orange with dotty skin.

“Chocolate Drop,” she called me. Was it because I was small and brown? Then she changed my name to something shorter and not so foreign.

There were two Richards, a tall one and a short one so we called them Big Richard and Little Richard. Amma made me a yellow party dress to match the bright yellow duck cake she made of you, for my third birthday. We had a tea party in the garden but I didn’t want anyone to cut you, so they only ate sky.

I would be here all day till Appa came for me. I was the last of the day kids to leave, usually when I was very sleepy and the serious man in a suit on the TV was saying words I didn't understand. The older kids would pinch me whenever I fell asleep. This was their home, for now anyway.

91

An imprinting fool

Like a newly hatched bird, I imprinted on you.

And waddled to the pace of your gait in a soft, sedated haze,
Ashamed to say, I lived that way for days.

And though I pruned and polished these monotone feathers,

You never thought to lower your longing gaze
To glance upon these irksome grey's.

And so I fooled myself, as I tried to look the pretty part,

Hoping that one day, you would praise
The girl that for you changed all her ways.

92

The Goose of Persephone

I am goose and today I became art at the hands of an apprentice taxidermist. Throughout the ages I have admired apothecaries who pickle or preserve body parts with formaldehyde and glycerine. Sacred, mummified cadavers are resplendent when discovered by archaeologists.

Looking upon death perturbs my soul; beaded eyes a reminder of lost vivacity. Flesh is for the living; appreciating the tousled beauty of human hair and youthful bones. Strutting fowl, flexing feathers ripe with life, prepared for nesting or feasting rituals. Our fate as geese is to flock, vibrantly fly as a team, forming a tight plump when our air navigation is taut. After hatching we form a honking gaggle in pursuit of our mother figure, our Lorenz. Individually we’ve been wrung by the neck, cooked and dined upon, traditionally spiced and seasoned until plates are wiped clean. Napkins stained.

I didn’t expect to be immortalised upon a cherished mantelpiece as furnishing décor. But the truth is, I am worthy. I am goose and this is my story.

Memories of mythology are passed through generations. Being immortalised in flesh cannot eclipse my fame in eternal myth. My ancestors were sculpted in bronze by the God of metalwork Hephaestus, spouse of Aphrodite who loved me dearly. Every female gosling aspires to lay that golden egg. To inhabit a castle in the clouds and descend a beanstalk embraced by a boy. Epigenetic feelings of safety and well-being craft each life. Humans were our refuge and our fate. They kept us close. In John Lydgate’s debate we fought our position against the sheep and the horse. We provided delectable meats, salubrious grease and feathery quills for ink and arrows.

Read more >
93

Liam

The world is divided into two kinds of people.
The ones who get me and the ones who don't.

Yes, I'm carrying a stuffed chicken with a head of blonde hair like a young Boris Johnson.

Before you came over did you nod and smile knowingly and say, 'Yes by god Derek you mad cunt you still have that chicken under your arm.' Or did you avoid all eye contact at all costs and hurry on with your boring life? Oh wait, we haven't met before.

I just got sick of everyone. You weed them out and that is exactly what I've done.
I'd recommend it.

It's pretty nice around here. Have you been for a swim? We have the highest population of indigenous metre hopping frogs this side of the Equator. It's how my Mam made a living, hosting frog experts in the spare room, and now I would consider myself a frog expert. Anything you want to know I can tell you. Go on try me. Do you know how long a frog can live? A long time.

Apparently being a frog expert was a niche thing but I just thought it was the done thing so I said to myself, Liam, you need to go out there and find your niche and then I discovered taxidermy.

There's an art and a respect to it. I'm particularly proud of Eugene here, he's one I finished yesterday. I do one a day, every week I get castoffs from local farmers and I do them up according to what orders come in. This one is Boris Johnson obviously. Read more >

94

Simone is in hysterics

Simone’s on the grass, pissing herself. She is rolling around in side-splitting hysterics. Her denim skirt slithers up her pin thin legs (which are nearly translucent with the pale).

I wonder how Simone manages to have such a good time, so consistently. Simone is the type of girl that finds everything frighteningly funny. Her perfect mouth is permanently ready to split into a smile the size of hefty orange segment. Manic laughter invariably follows. The expression “peals of laughter” swims into my brain.

“Simone looks like her skin might peel off with laughter,” I say to myself in my head, as though I am a dictionary providing myself with definitions, just for the hell of it. “Hahahahahah,” says Simone. “Ha,” I say, trying one out for myself. Ha. I test it on my tongue. I sound like I am broke (broke as in malfunctioning, though I am also the financial kind of broke). I can’t remember the last time I laughed. At a funeral, two years ago I remember. My Uncle Darren’s. When I peered into the casket and saw him caked in foundation three shades too dark for him my metaphorical marbles fell out of my pockets and rolled away from me at speed. He looked, frankly, ridiculous. Laughter crawled up my throat and out my mouth like hot sick. My mother turned to the crusty funeral home congregation and hissed, “She has autism.” Which is a lie. Or at least is not an established fact.

Simone and I are down at the lake. The water is glassy and dull today. Like a shite mirror. She is laughing like she’s on a horrific acid trip. I read about a woman who took mushrooms and killed herself fourteen years later, because she was still high and couldn’t hack it. We are fifteen and Marcus from the year above us is standing over Simone clutching his duck (which today, is wearing a tiny toupee). Marcus does have autism.

Read more >
95

First Date

Is that…?

Hi, lovely to meet you! I'm Michael. Wow, you really do look just like your profile picture! You have lovely eyes–

Is that a fucking duck with a wig?

Him? No, he’s a goose, and his name is–

Why the fuck are you holding a duck with a wig?

No, I’m not, I’m holding a goose, and–

That’s so fucking weird.

I suppose it’s not the usual, he’s–

Is this a weird, like, ice–breaker thing you do on first dates?

No, though I suppose it does make me memorable, right? Ha Ha.

I mean, sure.

His name is Hank–

Yeah of course it is–

–because Hank likes to honk. Get it?

No, I don’t. And the wig?

The wig doesn’t have a name.

No, why is he wearing a wig?

Just thought it suited him really. I think he likes it.

You just had one lying around? Read more >

96

Side by Side

You hold me
close
Still.

Your hand feels warm
and cold
All at once.

Fingers on feathers
embrace difference,
Caress.

I'm poised, ready,
but your thumb
Pins one wing

While your belt loop
crushes
The other.

Tough denim
on
Fragile bones.

I'm suspended
in mid-air,
Falling inside.

Faceless,
you take me
Elsewhere.

Read more >
97

Freed Boy

There is a boy who stumbled in his own feet,
He cried because his knees hurt and bleed.
No one helped him so he was stuck there weeping,
Until he realized, he needs to stand up and begin fighting.

Life, indeed, has never become so easy.
For a little boy who only wants to play,
Explore everything, discover something crazy,
And worse, found himself somewhere astray.

When life gets harder and harder,
The more people concede and surrender.
Instead of seeking help with prayer,
We choose to give up and become a loser.

But I say, instead of giving up,
Why not go against it and stand up?
Just like the boy who chose to fight,
Might as well, you have to make it right.

People may see us weak because we cry,
We let our tears run down our faces and dry.
For some reasons it has become a sign of weakness,
But for me, it is a manifestation of true courageousness.

The boy lifts himself and his duck toy,
Spending every second under the sun, enjoy!
He chose to go on and so are we
Put out all the worries inside and be FREE.

98

Charlie

I’m not a dashing handsome goose, but I’m unique with the patch of yellow hair on my head and sturdy web feet. My owner holds me tightly, and I squawk to make him put me down, but he doesn’t. My other friends are flapping their wings in the lake, the water against their beaks, and I’m resentful I can’t join in. Why can’t I be with them?

I hear noises from my owner’s mouth, but I don’t understand what they mean and the warm air against my feathers distracts me. Here come my friends swimming to shore. Oh, how I want to be with them.

“Here you go, Charlie. Go join your other companions.”

My owner places me on the ground and I wobble over to my friends. We all go into the lake happily splashing together.

I look over to shore, my owner waves and walks away.

I’m free.

99

The Big Cheese

‘Tell me, do you always walk this path,
Your face is new, I’ve not seen you before.’
With these lines my heart was broke,
Heart struck to silence when he spoke,
He looked so gorgeous, after all,
Dressed in blue, standing six feet tall,
For me the writing was on the wall,

So I allowed him to pick me up,
I became his lover duck,
He carries me everywhere under his arm,
I am it seems his lucky charm,
When I am with him women smile,
Children gather and name me friend,
He’s given chocolates and taken on dates,
I don’t mind, unless he comes home late,

On Sundays we walk out to see
The place where he first noticed me,
He tosses bread to lesser ducks, who
Squawk their thanks before floating away,
Hoping to be chosen on another day,
But for now my charm is all he needs,
For now, I am his only big cheese

It was my eyes that caught his own,
Their twinkle that made him smile,
These eyes that see all the world,
That make me wise, knowing, old,
It’s these he loves most of all,
My eyes trapped him to my thrall.

100

Blonds Have More Fun

Blonds really do have more fun. Ever since I had my hair dyed I appear more exotic to the ladies. My owner has been renting me out to stud and I've enjoyed myself a lot. Only problem is that everyone is going to expect some of the hatchlings to have golden hair like mine. But I'm actually a brunet.

101