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Other than a chickadee which I bought from
a pick-up truck vendor many, many years ago
I had never purchased a live animal
Today I went to Chinatown and parked on the south end of Grant
I walked down the street combing the poultry shops for a live duck
Most of the old markets had been shut down
under pressure from the Animal Humane Society
No more cages piled high on the sidewalks with the odor of fowl
or loose feathers dusting the already acrid air
Wooden crates jammed with roosters, hens and pigeons
Barrels of live frogs and turtles had been replaced by
Spanking new tourists emporiums spilling silk brocades
Chinaware and hand-carved deities from their over-stocked shelves
I make my way through the crowds into one market displaying
Roasted ducks hanging upside-down
I ask the proprietress, "Do you have any live ducks?"
She points next door
I walk into a long, narrow room with wooden cages kept behind a glass partition
"Do you have any live ducks?" I ask the old poker-faced poultry man
Without blinking, he asks "How many?"
I ask him "How much for one?" in Chinese
He answers "Sup-yih-gah-bun!"
Twelve dollars and fifty cents for the life of a duck?
I reply, "One!"
He turns around and opens the door to one of the crates
and reaches in and pulls out a big, speckled brown duck
He grabs it by the neck and ties its feet together
Then he stuffs the bird into a paper bag punctured with holes at the top
I pay him my money and he hands over the bag
I am so excited my heart is racing all the way out the door
I clutch the duck's warm body against my chest and
It feels like that of my baby before she had grown into a young lady
Hard to believe nineteen years had passed since
I had held her tiny body to me just like this
I walk the length of Grant Avenue with my contraband
I'm relieved I don't have a ticket and place the duck in the back of the car
I head out to the park with a heightened awareness of my sudden new surroundings
The buildings are unusually vivid, the pedestrians unusually alive
I park at Stow Lake and walk around till I find a spot near the reeds obscured from view
I walk down the embankment with my heart throbbing
I open the bag half expecting the duck to bite me
But she sits there calmly and patiently and as I untie
the right band of wire wrapped around her legs
Talking to her gently as I free her
I'm afraid to upset her by picking her up so
I turn the bag upside down and literally pour her into the water
She tumbles into the lake and as soon as her body makes contact with liquid
There is instant recognition
She dives into the pool and emerges with her feathers wet and glistening
She spreads her wings wide for the first time and quacks with joy
She dives in and out again and again
Baptizing her entire body with miraculous water
My heart sings to see this once captive duck
Frolic in the lake, diving and dancing, flapping her wings
as flocks of black guinea hens pass by in cool demeanor
And proud mallards observe their new member with calm disinterest
She quacks and cavorts like a prisoner released from death row
I sigh, never taking my eyes off her for a moment
Until she is joined by an identical speckled brown duck
They swim together past the boaters, past the reeds beyond sight
"Free!" I breathe, "at last!" One life saved for another one lost
Good-bye my darling, Danielle!
May your consciousness leap into the vast and familiar depths of Sukhavati!
And may you reunite quickly with the hosts of enlightened beings
Who have gone on ahead of you and who will soon follow!
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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.
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