The Archibald Rutledge Prize
The Second Mallard
Fill it up to the second mallard,
my grandfather, a doctor, commanded
as the screen door slammed on his workday.
His wife, small librarian, would tip ice
into a tumbler adorned with two birds
frozen in flight over a pond, reeds leaning
to the left, necks outstretched—
blue bottomed, red breasted and collared
by one cream ring, wings reaching wide to pull
the air beneath them. This is how you handle it.
Come home. Pour four fingers of bourbon,
setting an etching against an amber backdrop,
fill it two calling ducks worth. Sit in a leather chair,
deep green like a mallard’s neck. Drink.
Victory, like you had just brought home an elk
on the hood of your truck and your wife
can’t wait to be elbows-deep in its intestines.
Carefully, like a loose-mouthed Labrador
holding a feathered body. Sip, and admire
the large portrait of your favorite hunting dog,
a god among English setters, pointing, immortal
on the mantle. He who could read your mind
at a field trial. You who put one hand on his head,
gnarled bridge between red ear and white ear.
He who keeps watch, attentive, over the portraits
of children, and their children, a full flock in this
wood-lined room, the fields beyond the window
holding horses, the tomatoes almost ready
for the hard reality of the ground. Sip, until
you can raise your eyes to the farm,
the family carefully etched on this world,
flying forward and delicate as glass.