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