Tuesday, April 09, 2013

NaPoWriMo #6-7: valediction

I've been sick for over a week now, and while I soldiered bravely on for the first few days, I finally ran out of poetic steam. I just needed a few less things to worry about, so I could rest up and recoup. Today I'm feeling about 75-80%, which is progress enough to put me back in the saddle.

That, and after reading the prompt from the good folks at Napowrimo.net, I had to get the images out of my head that kept me up last night a little longer than I would have liked. See, the prompt was "valediction", and when I had a chance to sit with it and allow images and ideas to unfold, the place it took me was a memory from last year, when Jim and I took the kids to Spokane for the day.

As we were driving home, we saw a mother duck trying to lead her ducklings across the freeway. I have no idea how she had gotten them to the other side, but by the time we saw them, most of her babies had already been hit by passing cars. In the moment we witnessed it, Jim and I made a mute agreement not to call the kids' attention to the scene. This was something they would not be ready to see. One of our favorite bedtime books has been Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, a charming tale of a duck family who takes up residence in Boston. In one scene, the mother duck leads her little ones to safety under the watchful protection of police officers, who keep the cars at bay while the ducks cross the road to their home.

No, this was something my children would not be ready to see.

So, I went at this poem from two different directions: first, a tanka; then, free verse. For now, both are untitled.


Mother duck: a brown
buoy bobs in a sea of cars with
no way to guide her
small fleet to safety in the
tempest of rush-hour traffic.


She waits on the left shoulder
her fuzzy brood still strung across the median
then, when they have caught up
she darts out into the roadway
and one
             by one
                        the ducklings
                                              follow her
within seconds, the first two are crushed
by rush-hour traffic
suddenly, the mother duck
seems aware of the danger
when it is already too late
when five more downy, flightless babies
have already followed her
another down
then another.

The cars in front of us slow, briefly
and as if in slow motion
I see it unfolding:
dappled brown wings flapping in panic
and a scattered row of small bodies
flattened into the asphalt
feathers ruffled by the breezy wake
of passing cars
I grab my husband’s arm
and he swerves
to miss the last three ducklings.

For the rest of the ride, I’m stricken
tears falling uncontrollably
for the mother
now standing back beside the road
unable to leave her fallen babies
unable to lead the ones who still live
back to her nest.

No comments: