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Published: Sat Apr 15 2006
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
What Makes Men Great

Everyone knows the legend of Vaucanson’s duck,
_        _who could eat, snuffle, preen,
_                              _and muck about in mud
though made entirely of wire and wood.

Without the shitting duck, Voltaire wrote,
_        what would remind us_
_                              of the glory of France?_
Many great men make great mistakes,

as when von Kempelen’s chess player
_        _was revealed a hoax. Even Napoleon
_                              _lost his bid and crossed himself
when the mechanized voice declared Checkmate,

from the Persian schah mat, the king is dead.
_        _Ducked into the casket, under wooden arm
_                              _and never watching eye,
a succession of men

whose legs could be folded beneath them
_        _like wings, including a midget
_                              _who spoke only German
and flung himself from the frozen prow of a ship

in winter crossing. The fishermen who found him
_        _said their dinghies
_                              _were floating far from the shore.
They had to wade out to meet him.

See what's inside AGNI 63

Robin Ekiss is a former Stegner Fellow. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, AGNIThe Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. She lives in San Francisco. (updated 4/2006)

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