D. E. Steward

A mallard drake's iridescent green breeding plumage downstream shimmering

A hundred yards away off the trestle bridge

Then eighteen ring-necked drakes, vivid white bill rings chalky clean

Crawl through lakeside brush to watch them circle two brown hens water-skimmeresque

Ducks moving mark spring

Like a pair of wood ducks cavity-searching in the beeches and white oaks, perched high with paddle feet flat at rest at the top of the fat bole of an immense beech

The marvel of wood ducks nesting in trees, marbled murrletlike

The intensity of Chile’s torrent ducks breasting big rapids

Worship anything, worship evolution

How things got that way

With no universal laws in biology, none at all

No caveats, no dictates

Everything with flexible parameters

Genes, not only the carriers of heredity, they also activate and demobilize one another, respond to environment

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”  (Darwin)

In us all

Mary’s charming puzzlement at her big white turkey’s stupidity out at their place in Sulniac

Walking all evening in the summer dusk out from the train out from Gare Montparnasse

Hitching, but no rides

Through the Landes de Lanvaux

Marshy and rocky Breton bocage 

And behind is the backcountry of Breton Montagnes Noires

The huge, lonely, provincial world of western France 

Localism defines everywhere in France

Even at Struthof, the concentration camp in the Vosges where a wildly hugging Parisian gushed about how at seventeen during the Libération she embraced les Américains

Sticky face powder smell

Her mid-century conventions of girdles, garter belts, permanents, powder puffs, mascara

Hot, porky, pink

The definitive strangeness of things pink

Twenty-first centuryness implies black


Smug shallow callow, tattoos, stressed hair, pierced, sour, direct, cramped, skinny, mean

No matter the apparent, permanently human, good 


As in one or another medieval Hinterhöf

Courtyards as small theaters two thousand years of drama, sodden boredom, firmament wheeling close-in, the long and cold nights, summer’s dusks reaching to the Munster’s ten o’clock toll


Animals bedded down and chewing cud, chickens roosted along a nestbox below the roof

Clammy below a shallow sun, a hacking cough at dawn from deep inside a window blank

Goats, a lamb or calf, a giddy gambol or two, the sun peaking over the three or four stories blocking out the south, burro bray and packhorse whinny

A figure at another narrow upper window with a chamber pot and slops

Spewed to ground by the small paved thrashing floor 

Voracious hogs and chickens charge

Leggy hogs, mangy dogs

Furtive cats

Misthaufen and river sand

Limbs and branches dragged to the Hinterhof for fuel

Heavy Rhenish northernness 

Long the European paradigm for village, chateau and castle, innards within city walls

Mule-trains, river barges and skiffs, carts and oxen, moved the goods

And before the mercantile China and urban India were variants

Africa was still far removed

With open villages on the savanna

Slow and tight lines of antelopes with curve of horn, the long mark of time

Sable antelopes redolent of Lascaux

Immutable brown pelage 

In the manner of the dark blue sky in high mountains bleeding farther away in space to become black through the void

Three-quarter foliage moon down through acacia tangle 

Filigree of bone branch sycamore

Of persimmon orange layering twig shadows

Flattening toward sleep with the moon wonder passed into the west

Without breeze in somber quiet

Old ivory’s yellow duller than chamois

Darker and slightly greener than flax

In skylands you see the edge and not behind, not what it is like in back of the apparent

In bush veldt savanna you never see the edge

While inside a Hinterhof everything is walls, limits and anxious dubieties

Screaming priests, resolute soldiers, intrusive shrieves

Their coercive drafts for corvée

Or service on the city walls or on the border

Impressment enforced by der Herr or even the Herzog himself cantering unannounced into the Hinterhof on a well-groomed jennet

His Gebieter marching the conscripted out leaving the old men, women and kids standing with the chickens, angry and perplexed   

Animals everywhere then, the cats and dogs underfoot, hogs in the streets, the mule-trains wending in from the Alps offloading cargo to push on down the Rhine 

Mules, burros and packhorses

In late-eighteenth-century Peru there were half a million mules trading over the Andes and up and down the coast

Mule drives of many thousands toward Lima up from the Pampas via Salta

Herds to the great Feira de Muares of Sorocaba near São Paulo to serve the huge pre-industrial Brazilian plaited transportation net  


Sorocaba must have been like nothing we have known since railroads, a city on the road to Rio existing only to trade horses, hinnies, slaves and mules

A succession of índio-Lusitanian-assimilado generations lived between the Carioca and the Paraná

Brazil’s universe


The northern world knows Brazil is there, thinks often of the Amazon, knows the names of the big Brazilian cities

But with scant idea of the immensity of its provincial samba-driven sugarcane-fueled world

Chorino, samba de breque, samba-canção, samba-enredo, samba-pagode, samba de roda, bossa nova

Beyond, the Río de la Plata, Iguazú, the Pampas, the Andes and trans-Andean Chile 

Chile’s short, fast rivers to the Pacific

Deep grass llama pastures on both sides

Before the Andean wall

The volcanic chambers beneath

The fumaroles

Below high Andean skies

The Southern Ocean just out there beyond 

Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Huidoboro, Pablo de Rokha, Nicvanor Parra, Jorge Teillier, Enrique Lihn

A universal mallard drake’s iridescent green head shimmering

The torrent ducks, black and white white-water swimming, bobbing, diving in the rapids and cascades





Ducks are always pleasant to write about and I'm on the lookout for them wherever I am. European courtyards are windows opening on the past. The one described here is in Basel on the Rhine, a city I know quite well. The reality of a mule-powered South American colonial civilization is something I only learned about after making it to Brazil fairly recently. Of course one thing leads to another.