Poetry Friday: “Countermeasures” by Sara Miller

"What the Duck?"

Sometime last autumn, in an effort to combine a needed moment of retail therapy with some eventual ‘me time’, I entered for myself a new subscription to Poetry magazine, the one-hundred-year-old gem that comes forth from The Poetry Foundation in Chicago. At the time, I gave little thought to how I would make use of the journal when it arrived in my mailbox.

The other day, in an effort to adopt some sort of non-resolution resolution for the New Year, I decided I could also emerge from my unduly quiescent state at Like Fire by reading and writing about poems (some of which I would discover among Poetry‘s pages) even though I’m not at all trained for that sort of thing.

Today, in the third of these impulsive moments, I was startled awake by the cover’s beautiful orange extension cord and flipped open the January issue, deciding to choose a poem and write about it, before day’s end. All by way of saying — this is how we, you and I, have arrived at this moment together.

I wish I could keep my thoughts in order
and my ducks in a row.
I wish I could keep my ducks in a thought
or my thoughts in a duck. …

I took away three insights from this compact and lovely work: (a) our thoughts, unique and unrepeatable, can be held in memory for an understanding that deepens over time; (b) we achieve excellence in quiet observation and attentive reflection as our thoughts, like ducks, float by; and (c) in this work, we are not alone for “we all exist, wetly, in the hunt”.

I considered these things during my morning commute, mostly in silence but for the brief counterpoint of Cher singing “If I Could Turn Back Time” (how eerie a shuttle bus radio can be). As this new year moves forward (with no turning back), I wonder for myself how consistently I will remember the lessons of this poem, about self and others and our common efforts. Whose thoughts or ducks ever exist for long in ordered rows? Who knows best how to organize and thrive amid unending change?

Let’s choose juicy mindfulness.

"Mamma duck and babies"


Sara Miller is a poetry fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Six of her poems are published in the January issue of Poetry, her first appearence there. “Countermeasures” is among those read in the magazine’s January podcast (around 1:00).

Top: (“What the Duck?” from Kurt and Sybilla / cc by-nc) // Bottom: (“Mamma duck & babies” from City of Albany, Oregon / cc by-nc-nd)


1 Comment to Poetry Friday: “Countermeasures” by Sara Miller

  1. George's Gravatar George
    January 4, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    As I recall, the Baron Munchausen had a formula for getting ducks on a line.

    But when I think of waterfowl and poetry, mostly I think of Yeats, and his wild swans paddling the cool companiable streams, or of the seabirds in another poem. “Thoughts in a duck” though sounds like Groucho Marx, on books and dogs.

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