Margaret Donovan Bauer: Ducks On The Pamlico

That first summer on the Pamlico,
a mother led her dozen ducklings
swimming westward just off the bank in the morning,
eastward in the evening,
one duckling short.
Same thing the next day
and the next.
On the fourth day, I call out to the last in line.
Faster, faster. Watch your back. Get closer to Mama.

But someone has to be last.
I want to believe
Mama’s just dropping them off
to make new homes
down along the Pamlico.

One summer, a pair of mallards flew in each evening
to forage under the bird feeder.
If our river-sitting happy hour started early,
the female came in alone, making quite a ruckus.
The first time I heard her outburst, I worried.
Has she lost him?
Is she mourning? But the next evening,
there they were
under the feeder, together.

She is the scout, I determined,
of course she is,
going ahead to assess the danger,
reporting back, Danger!
(But then, all the fallen seeds for her brave, sacrificing self.)

In winter,
we enjoy our river through the glass.
Who knew
when ducks dive
they can stay down
so long?
I’m timing them.
One Pamlico, two Pamlico,
three Pamlico, four,
. . . twenty seconds.

This winter,
there are many more ducks on the river,
as though the whole line of ducklings survived
that first summer, and every summer since,
for the whole dozen years
to gather here with their families
and to tell me,
You were right.
She was just dropping us off
To make new homes.
We’re A-okay.
And just look
at our fine families.

They submerge and emerge, submerge and emerge
while I watch the water color change
in the light around them.
I count the seconds they are under.
One Pamlico, two Pamlico, three Pamlico, four . . .

I can’t believe I start thinking
about duck gumbo.

Mallard duck and ducklings on river