Tuesday, 26 September 2017


Anyone passing through Sowerby or Hebden Bridge has a good chance of seeing the famous Muscovy Duck who, though apparently basing himself at Hebden, seems to have quite a habit of paddling, flying or swimming up and down the canal and taking stop-off visits at various points between the two towns. But he is not alone. In terms of Muscovies, the Hebden duck is certainly our most regular presence in the Valley, but I have sat and watched others of this interesting family taking in the views at different places, including as far afield as Littleborough.


Before moving to the Calder Valley, I had never laid eyes on a Muscovy, but nowadays it is more unusual to go a few days without a sighting!  Indeed, so far have the Muscovies become a part of my daily ornithological furniture that it was inevitable they should waddle their way into my poems.  But before I share my own meditations on the Muscovies, we ought to dwell for a moment on the philosophical musings they inspired in Australian writer Henry Lawson (1867 - 1922) who pronounces:

No frantic flaps of useless wings, no cackle, hiss, nor cluck,
She’s queen of all philosophers—the quaint Muscovy duck.

Many times I have watched the Muscovies, perplexed by their genetics, intrigued by their colours, delighted by their behavour and wobbly insouciance.  When working at Hebden Bridge Tourist Information, struggling with the cash sheets and defeated by the till, I would cast an eye outside onto the drizzled cobbles, and watch the plumpish duck relaxing in the rain, while I disintegrated under administrative anguish.  Which of us had the right idea?


About the size of two cats
you paddle puddles,
flap concertina wings,
plumply patrol the pigeoned pavements,
two sliced-cherry eyes pinned either side
of your clamp-beaked head, red-decorous
with a rubbery blotch
as though a big ball of aniseed
had melted and dripped down your forehead.

There's something in your sip
as you crane a rain-stroked neck
of the itinerant -
your constant search for morsels
as you peck the cobbled crannies
reminds me of my own continued need
to scrape and salvage, the bitter scavenge
of the human race, an endless reel of having to make do,
never knowing where or how the next means of survival
might be found.

Web-footed waddler, you wade a drizzled wharf,
tail-feathers wafting like a witch's broom
but as you saunter in the pluvial sludge of a Northern February
your fixed unblinking eye catches mine.
Beyond the glass we watch one another.
You peer into my artificial planet
where neccesities are parcelled up and labeled choices,
where a hungry dash from need to need dictates
unstable pyramids of greed,
where, water-born, we must seek shelter in dry other worlds
within a world - but you, unworried and unhurried,
have made an ease of your uncertainty,
looked daily desperation in the eye,
have faced the torturous paradox,
the many-mirrored image of existence
and jollily sloshed on
and if birds laughed
you'd chuckle in the moonlight,
at one with the world.


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