Dot Learns the Problem with Naming the Animals

by Erin Elizabeth Smith

At Tractor Supply, the ducklings huddle
under the gravity of heat. Dot cannot
refuse them–the throaty peeping,
their furious inconsistent sleep.
At home, Dot watches them fluff
and peck, hoover tiny pellets in beak.
As they grow, they splash in bowls,
six drenched puffs in a marshy pine bed.
She names her favorite, a Peking
who has nearly learned to smile.
She knows better, but the way it lets her
palm its plume, how it tumbles
in the bathtub like bear cubs
smelling of chlorine and down.
Dot can’t help but love the smallest
who hunkers in cold corners
while the mallards grow spindly
with feather and fight,
but when she finds it hobbled
and soaked, pecked by the Khakis
whose soprano has turned
to dark laughter, she knows
what she must do–spin the neck,
watch the sparked black eye
click off.
But she can’t.
Instead she tries toothpicks, popsicle
sticks, all the ways you’d mend
a pinkie. She holds it close to her breast
where it collapses to throb and fever.
Where it becomes something that is,
at least for a time,