“Of Ducklings and Warren Zevon” by Joseph Hesch

Even with the clouds and drizzle dimming light and sight this Friday morning, I could see the shadows stir beneath the Ford parked in front of me in the lot at work. They began to lighten and take shape, like thoughts of escape from this new day just like so many others.

From behind the Ford’s left front wheel waddled a female mallard and her six fuzzy brown ducklings, each no bigger than my thumb, marching dutifully behind her. The sight was stunning enough, but the reality that this was in a parking lot, nearer a highway than any body of water, struck me harder.

The string of peeps stumbled past my door, and in my side-view mirror I saw mamma duck hop up the curb to the grass and watched as each of her babies but one climbed that yellow-painted cliff to join her. The last tiny one struggled, his fear or just being the runt grounding him on the tarmac along with my thoughts.

I never saw her look back once, but the little fella’s mom steered her little convoy back onto the black top, reeled in her groundbound guppy and set off on a new course in her Hejira to a liquid Mecca I’ll never know. In that moment, I thought how loving, how noble, how pure and innocent this scene was on this sour-faced place and this misty morning.

Then that most-human prerogative overtook me—the reality of thinking ahead, of projecting forward on stubby wings of worry to a What If? and its landing spot of a usually unhappy What.

And for some reason, I thought of my granddaughter, sleeping in her sleepy place back at the house. I imagined her soft skin and innocent spirit and mind framed there, not yet exposed to the grit and grind that may await her when someday she sets off on her trip toward a puddle, a pond, a future I don’t know but about which I just began to fear.

I thought the same thing about her mother and her aunt as I held them in the middle of the night or stood pondering and protecting them with the lights off during their fluffy infancies and beyond.

It’ll drive you crazy if you dwell on that dark unknown for too long. You know what the world is for you and what it has been, so you extrapolate that worst-thing-that-can-happen when you don’t even know if you’ll open your eyes in the morning…if you ever fall asleep.

So I try (and try and try) to stick myself on the pinpoint of the moment. I fail more often than not, but I find its neighborhood a good place to hang out. I mostly find it with my hand wrapped around a pen or my fingers upon the keys of a computer, channeling thoughts that won’t be contained.

That’s where I am now: imagining for you and me the last time I saw those ducklings, safely walking behind their mom along the curb in a parking lot on a drizzly Albany morning, sort of but not really near a pond to the west. And I’m thinking of Warren Zevon when he once said something about the world being such a scary place, but mostly a wonderful place.

And I’m going to enjoy this peanut butter and jelly sandwich like it’ll be my last.

Joseph Hesch is a writer and poet from Albany, NY. His poetry and stories have appeared in several journals and anthologies. His first collection of poetry, Penumbra, came out in October. He was named a Best “Tweep for Writers to Follow” by Writers Digest‘s Robert Lee Brewer, for reasons known only to Mr. Brewer. You can read more of Joe’s work on his blog, A Thing for Words. 

Image: “Residential Albany, New York, State Street and Willett Street 1934,” from Albany Public Library History Collection

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