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What Makes Men Great

by Robin Ekiss

Everyone knows the legend of Vaucanson’s duck,
        who could eat, snuffle, preen,
                              and muck about in mud
though made entirely of wire and wood.

Without the shitting duck, Voltaire wrote,
        what would remind us
                              of the glory of France?
Many great men make great mistakes,

as when von Kempelen’s chess player
        was revealed a hoax. Even Napoleon
                              lost his bid and crossed himself
when the mechanized voice declared Checkmate,

from the Persian schah mat, the king is dead.
        Ducked into the casket, under wooden arm
                              and never watching eye,
a succession of men

whose legs could be folded beneath them
        like wings, including a midget
                              who spoke only German
and flung himself from the frozen prow of a ship

in winter crossing. The fishermen who found him
        said their dinghies
                              were floating far from the shore.
They had to wade out to meet him.


Robin Ekiss is a former Stegner Fellow. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. She lives in San Francisco. (4/2006)

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