Mona Van Duyn: “Near Changes”


Leda_au_cygne (Paul Cezanne--small)
Leda au Cygne (Cezanne)

            from “The Year’s Top Trivia,”
            Sanford Teller Information Please Almanac, 1978

“Bob Holt, a 20-year old Seattle man,
was quietly walking on a downtown street,
disguised as a mallard duck,
when he was–for no apparent reason–
attacked by a husky, 6-foot tall
bearded stranger.
The perpetrator spun him around by one wing,
tore off his duck bill,
hit him over the head with it,
and ran away.
Holt, who was dressed as a duck
to promote a local radio station,
had no explanation for the incident.
He told police,
‘I didn’t speak to him,
I didn’t flap my wings
or do anything like that.'”

Is this trivia, after all,
or a profound story?
The gods used to do it,
to themselves and to mortals,
sometimes in mercy,
sometimes out of blind merciless power,
but the rest of us only yearn in odd moments
of our fixed lives for the sense of it,
of how it would feel to be bull or swan,
or obsessively weaving spider or even
the plucked and plundered
tree of bay,
for “Emerging from one’s own self…,” says Llosa,
“is a way…of experiencing
the risks of freedom.”
With the help of paper feathers
supplied by a local radio station,
settling into his new shape,
having become green-headed, rufous-breasted,
with bold white neckring and yellow bill,
walking quietly along,
a Seattle man began to turn avian
on a downtown street,
though the metamorphosis was only half completed
since he could not quite say later,
“I didn’t quack at him,”
but could say to fact-finders, “I didn’t flap my wings
or do anything like that.”

And the bearded stranger?
Prescient as Leda, he sensed the presence
which to others was not apparent,
and was only protecting his nest,
the brick and concrete of Sears and service stations
where the arm that ends in four fingers
and an opposable thumb
at one touch of a button
warms and cools the vulnerable flesh
and the brain in its dear, lip-voiding box of language
and lights the concealments of space
and brings forth the cadence of cars
and Beethoven to cover
the soundless spin of the globe
whose button is beyond its reach,
lest that nest return, at the wingéd touch
of the human imagination,
which transforms past belief,
sometimes in mercy,
sometimes in blind mercilessness,
to vast and silent waters
toward whose reedy edge
Bob Holt was coasting in for a landing,
without flapping his wings.

Mona Van Duyn




~ by matt on 1 June 2009.

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Natalie E. Illum...

is a poet, performer and disability activist. Bring her stumbling to your city.

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