Duck, Duck, Goose

Read it here in Mojave Heart Review or read below:

Duck, Duck, Goose

Why am I pleased

with the rattle and shout of the towhee?

Intrusive, right?

Didn’t I say I like a quiet morning?

The train fills up

at seven a.m. with the hue and cry

of these people —

no longer mine, because now I am a grouse.

I’m tired of the sound of my voice.

And every other human’s.

I’m sick of our sickness

stealing the world’s other songs.

In my headphones

seabirds lay claim to the scream and tussle.

Imagine the buffet of wings,

the highways of wind. Imagine I might

see the last flight of entropy



the waves and their wanting years.


I wrote this poem entirely on trains.

A magic of poetry (especially the short kind) is that you can often bang out a piece in a single sitting (or walking.) But it’s rarely DONE in that first intense hour of creation. This one began on a train from San Diego to Camarillo, CA – an early morning departure that started off sleepy and jarred me rudely awake somewhere in L.A. If you know me, you know how much gratuitous human sound bothers me. Leafblowers, construction, neighbors having a party at night, people walking their dogs at 9pm. It’s funny, a little, even though it’s also legitimately hard for me to handle. I don’t know why I’m like this. Why not? It’s true our species gobbles so much more than our fair share of aural space.

I spent months at a time away from the first draft. Opening the file, sifting the rhythm, closing it again without changes. I had the words mostly right, but the concept was missing something.

I figured it out when I was trying to write a different piece, about this time of immense sorrow for the natural world: extinctions, species’ thinning, the loss of the dawn chorus. I wanted the lightness of loving birdsong, of griping about noisy people on a train, alongside the serious, almost unspeakable lament for what we are losing.

I was riding Amtrak from Seattle to Oregon City, a nice quiet 5-hour trip with wide wetland and river views. So that’s where this piece became Duck, Duck, Goose: a way to poke fun at myself; a way to voice different, but related, pains and struggles; a way to link children’s games and simple pleasures to the damage adult humans are doing to our own children’s futures, our own futures, to non-human people’s futures.

It’s not the only future, and I tried in my poem to preserve that ambiguity. But it’s one we’re pointed straight towards. We, as a species, continue to poison land and water, light up the night, over-fish, clutter the oceans with plastic, and pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Then we double-down by decreasing official protections for non-human life. (Human life, too. Profit-worship capitalism doesn’t care about your grandkids any more than it does about birds.)

If you’re not aware of this spiral of destruction, more information is easy to find. If you’re one of those wonderful individuals who makes time to write government offices and call your senators, add this issue to your list. Your representatives don’t want a ton of words, they want your position. Just tell them, over and over, you value life. Bird life, human life, wild life. Tell them they have to help us face up to the rapidly changing realities of our planet.

This isn’t the issue of a political party. Fuck political parties — if you’ll pardon my germanic derivative. This is about realizing what we’re losing, celebrating what we still have, and protecting it fiercely from our own greed and inertia.

Duck, Duck, Goose. Your turn.

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