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"The Ocean Duck" by Coleman Barks

first published in Delicious Laughter. Maypop Books, 1990.

You're a wild Ocean-Duck
that has been raised with chickens!

Your true mother lived on the Ocean,
but your nurse was a domestic land-bird.

Your deepest soul-instincts are toward the Ocean.
Whatever land-moves you have
you learned from your nurse, the hen.
It's time now to join the ducks!

Your nurse will warn you about saltwater,
but don't listen! The Ocean's your home,
not that stinking henhouse.

You are a King, a son of Adam, who can tread water,
as well as the ground. Angels don't walk the earth,
and animals don't swim in the spiritual Ocean.

You're a man or a woman.
You do both. You stumble along, and you soar
in great circles through the sky.

We are waterbirds, my son.
The Ocean knows our language and hears us,
and replies. The sea is our Solomon.

Walk into that, and let the David-Water
make us lovely chain-mail with its ripples.

The Ocean is always around us, but sometimes
through vanity and forgetfulness we get seasick.

As thunder sometimes gives a thirsty man
a headache, when he forgets it's bringing rain.
He keeps hoping for something from the dry creek-bed.
Don't look to secondary causes!

Once an ascetic lived far out in the desert,
and pilgrims would come to marvel at him.

Enraptured, he stood on sand hot enough
to make water boil, yet in the desert wind
he was cool and moist
as though in a freshly watered garden.

His bare feet seemed wrapped in silk
and his body in a breeze.

The pilgrims waited. Finally he came back
from his absorbed state to be one of them,
very bright and alive.
                 Water was trickling
fro his face and garments
as though from ablutions.
                 "Where did it come from?"
they asked. He pointed upward.
                 "But does it come
whenever you want it to? With no well and no rope!
Tell us more about this."
                 The ascetic prayed,
"Answer these pilgrims' questions, You Who
brought space into view from non-spatiality.
Let these pilgrims see where their sustaining
comes from."
                 In the middle of that a cloud appeared,
a big elephant of a cloud,
that began to spray down trunkfuls
of rainwater, flooding the ditches and hollows.

The pilgrims opened their waterskins
and let them be filled.

One group immediately cut the cords of doubt
and were freed.

                 Another group let their faith
begin to grow slowly.

                 And a third segment
of the pilgrims were sour and skeptical
before they came, and sour and skeptical
                 And that's the end of that story!


University of Oklahoma logo

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Myth.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. 2002.
Page last updated: February 9, 2003 9:21 PM

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