When I was a child, my family kept chickens, a small mob of geese, and ducks. It was the ducks, in both our view and their own, who were special. They were Indian Runners: sleek, tall, white birds, capable of outsprinting a heavy pig. Of their half-dozen strong community, there was one in particular who held our affection. Donald.
As a young duck, when he broke his wing, we brought him into the house to recover. It seems a touch odd to me, now, that we did that. I remember our efforts training him to not shit on the carpet. I remember the noise he made when he slept. I remember him shitting, a lot, on the carpet. Mostly, though, I remember what became of him after he went back to the coop.
Ducks are very sexual creatures. Domestic ducks, unlike wild ones, are polygamous.
As an eleven-year-old boy, beginning to understand the possibilities of genitalia, I would stare horrified and fascinated through the kitchen window at the brutal copulations outside the coop. So it was probably me who first noticed Donald’s erection.
Drakes grow a new penis each year. It can be unnervingly long (in some species of duck the penis is longer than the duck) and shaped like a corkscrew, to match the spiralled inner tube of the female’s vagina. The drake’s penis erects instantaneously, once inside. It is not supposed to see the light of day. Donald’s penis, however, was permanently out.
I cannot recall exactly how we knew that he was in pain. The vet, nevertheless, agreed that he needed help. The penis could not be encouraged to rewind so, eventually, it was pushed back and stitched in. Decades on, writing that sentence, I am filled with shame and, yes, some perplexity.
For a while afterwards, it did seem to do the trick. Donald was much happier. Once again he ran, foraged, led expeditions. Until, that is, we found him in a nearby brook, lying on his back, dead, his erupted penis free of the stitches.
These days, when I mainly get wheeled out to talk about modern manhood, the retelling of this story (the last time, at a festival, was in the form of a poem to a Sunday afternoon tent of confused children) feels like a fitting counterpoint to that discussion. This, for once, is not a story of masculinity in crisis. Donald was never in any doubt about what his manhood stood for.
Image © Jeffery Scism