29 February 2024: Dustin


~ by Lisa Ann Reilich

It’s winter. I’m pouring warm water 

from a blue plastic 5-gallon bucket  

brought by sled down the frozen February

drive into Dustin‘s little white-enameled 

metal bathtub. It’s just above freezing, 

steam rises as I pour. I spy Dustin soiled, 

unkempt nearby. Deftly scooping him up, 

pinning his wings to quiet his instinctive 

struggling, I carry him. The elder Pekin

duck is more crippled each day.  Winter 

has not gone gently for him this year. 

Dustin can barely walk lately, he hobbles 

more than waddles.  In my arms he resists 

and then, as I release, he spreads his wings 

wide as the clouded sky, landing 

with a plunk in his bath. 

My mood is heavy today, a cast-iron skillet

crashing through the ice and sinking solidly

into the murky bottom kind of heavy. I’m in 

the muck with the hibernating carps, pressure 

of tears not dropped, steam not rising, tugging 

at my chest. I’m wondering if the water will be 

too warm and then, in moments, the crystal clear 

bath turns as murky as my mood. But Dustin’s 

whitening feathers and ecstasy in motion makes 

twin mood and dirtied water not matter.

There’s something about watching this once spry 

duck, just moments ago so old, in his winter bath bliss 

radiating joy that has me smiling.  I’m witnessing 

a farmyard miracle. The crippled duck looks brand 

new. He looks whole, where before he was broken. 

An old duck turns young again for a few minutes 

of sheer splish-splash flashing bliss in the frozen 

February sun. Wings spread and flap, neck cranes 

down with arching grace. Even semi-blind, his bill 

finds the water. And up again he preens and cleans 

and dances again, and again. With each of his ecstatic 

movements my smile grows. Heavy grows 

light, lifting my frying pan mood right up out 

of this murky dark and chilling ice. 

And there’s something about knowing that his days 

are numbered, that for him today might be the last, 

that makes his joy, his bliss, so much more catching. 

More contagious than the cold.

And if that’s all my life amounts to, carrying 

Dustin over to a warm winter bath for a few 

moments of joy in his otherwise debilitating 

elder duck life, well, maybe that’s enough.  

Maybe that’s enough.


February 2024


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