Susan G. Duncan

Issue 17


from “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
and “On Setting a Migrant Goose Free”
by Po Chü-i, translated by David Hinton

there’s no peace     a million are moving across the landscapes     north

this tenth-year winter     you have to be good     you have to walk

and it hurts


there’s no peace     a million are moving for miles     through the desert

lumber slower     and slower     starved and exhausted     riverwater spawns ice

it’s cold


pecking through snow     on your knees for grass     meanwhile

the world goes on     north?     the last place you should go     there’s no peace

just a million armored soldiers


they’d shoot you     whoever you are     the soft animal of your body

tangled in a net     carried away     meanwhile     the world goes on



massed by the hundred     sleeping hungry     cold lonely

boys grown old     exiled here     tell me     where will you fly now?

the rivers and the deep trees


the mountains     high in the clean blue air?     heading home again

repenting?     tell me     about despair     yours

and I will tell you


the world offers pain     the world offers armies     the world offers

to pluck you clean     over and over     the harsh world     calls to you

announcing your place


in the family of things     over and over     announcing

whoever you are     no matter     a loose pebble

just a pebble


Source & Method

This cento poem arose from the intersection of two famous poems in which geese appear. Although the bird is critical to both source poems, mine doesn’t contain the image, only the interplay of Mary Oliver’s metaphor of freedom and Po Chü-i’s imprisonment, all in the service of a present-day narrative.

Susan G. Duncan is a consultant to performing and visual arts organizations. Her poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, Blast Furnace, and Thema, among many others, as well as in anthologies by Sixteen Rivers Press and The Poetry Box.

Photo by Das Sasha