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Post Road Magazine #34

Field Notes

Bill Coyle

Before their gas-flames flower, the naked thistles
are sheathed green cylinders pin-pricked with purple—
a bank of microphones: Testing: one, two

At the dock, a throng of young coots peep and jostle.
With the young mallards they have even less
patience, and though the ducks are twice their size,

the coots are tougher. Much. A few yards out
their white-faced mother swims a perimeter,
uttering at five second intervals

a soft, pneumatic, slightly indignant cough. 
Coots have been known to kill their young for nagging
when there is not enough food to be had.

Wilderness in the middle of the city,
and otherness—two women speaking French
and casting bread upon the silted waters.

A young male mallard, hungrier or braver
or smarter than the others, wades ashore
and out along the planks behind the two, 

tilting his body forward as he comes,
sticking his neck out, keeping his head down,
provoking when discovered ooh lah lahs

and handouts that he doesn’t at first dare
accept. Do ducks have no reverse gear?
To retreat he has to turn tail or step sideways.

The coots are crowding, crying underfoot,
their fluffy backs scattered with clear bright drops
of water firm and separate as quicksilver.

The reeds lean in, then back, alternately
enthralled, appalled, credulous notwithstanding
what the wind says. It plays them like a harp.

As we head up the forest path, you leading,
in the faint wake of air you leave in passing
a star of milkweed rises to attend you. 

Back on the gravel path to the café
you note a molted feather—half downy grey,
half sheened, white-spotted black—pinned with a pebble.

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