Duck Head Journal is an online, non-profit literary journal. We aim to respond to all submissions within two weeks. We publish quarterly, on or near the first day of each season. Submissions are open on a rolling basis. Poetry, short fiction, artwork, and photography submissions are accepted. In order to be considered for the next issue, submit your work on or before the last day of the month prior to its launch.
Fall Issue launches September 21st — submit on or before August 31st to be considered
Winter Issue launches December 21st — submit on or before November 30th to be considered
Spring Issue launches March 21st — submit on or before February 28th to be considered
Summer Issue launches June 21st — submit on or before May 31st to be considered
Our goal is to provide a platform for local, national and international writers and artists to share their work, discover and engage with established and emerging artists. Submit up to three poems, one piece of short fiction, one artwork and/or one photo to firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandon McQuade is a Canadian poet living in Gillette, Wyoming with his wife, Jacqlyn and their children. McQuade served as the Poetry Editor for Montréal Writes in 2020, before they went on an indefinite hiatus. He is the recipient of the Neltje Blanchan Memorial Writing Award (2022). His poems have been published in a number of literary journals in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland. His debut chapbook, Bleeding Heart, was published by Kelsay Books, and is available on Amazon. His first collection of poetry, Mango Seed, was recently published by Scurfpea Publishing. His second collection, Bodies, is forthcoming with Powder River Publishing.
Short Fiction Editor
Jamie Feldman has worked as a fiction writer and playwright for the better part of the last fifteen years. Her short fiction and plays have been published and performed internationally, including in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K, and Ireland. She holds an M.Phil. in creative writing from Trinity College Dublin, and is a former Artist in Residence at Fljotstunga, Iceland. She is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada and now splits her time between Canada and Ireland.
Last Day in Maine
Our faces bathed in pink, violet, and yellow
first light, we sit still, saying goodbye
to the bay whose glassy face we have
stared into for days. Goodbye to the sharp fins
of porpoises breaking surface, the small heads
of seals lifting up, hauling a trail of silver
ripples behind them, whiskers twitching
as they go under again. Goodbye to the bald eagle
perched in the oak that like a half-plucked
bird itself has lost its glossy brown leaves,
having given them to the sea the eagle swooped
over, headed to the more secluded island
and its nest among the pines. How quickly we
claim a place as our own, scrubbing windows,
turning the couch so it faces the water,
and we don’t lose a moment of this sunrise
whose slow colors awaken the awe inside us
we had no idea was dormant till now,
like a seed needing only the right mix
of rain and light to climb into its glory.
James Crews is the editor of the best-selling anthology, How to Love the World, which has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, in the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post, and is the author of four prize-winning collections of poetry: The Book of What Stays, Telling My Father, Bluebird, and Every Waking Moment. His poems have been reprinted in the New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, The New Republic, and The Christian Century, and in former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s weekly newspaper column, “American Life in Poetry,” and featured on Tracy K. Smith’s podcast, The Slowdown. Crews holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He lives with his husband on forty rocky acres in Shaftsbury, Vermont. To sign up for weekly poems and prompts, visit: http://www.jamescrews.net.
The Day They Do Not Show Up
Juan R. Palomo
That evening he stands at the front door
searching for the twin beams announcing
his parents’ return, even as he suspects
no headlights will pierce the dust
from the gravel road, not this evening.
Behind him his sisters heat los frijoles
y las tortillas on the wood stove.
They peel and slice and fry las papas,
as they’ve always done when their parents
work past dusk in the potato fields.
Only this time, they know. Comprenden,
somehow, que no es lo mismo. What
they had talked about and feared, is here.
And because they know, they do not wait.
They eat, alone, sin palabras,
at the oilcloth-covered table.
They imagine where their parents
might be but they do not talk about it.
They wonder when they will see
them again. If they’ll see them again.
That night, he listens to his sisters consoling
each other in the bed next to his catre.
He does not cry, but as he begins to fall asleep,
he pictures his parents
in the back of a green van,
his father holding his mother’s hand.
They both stare into the darkness.
Juan R. Palomo was born in North Dakota to migrant farmworker parents and grew up in Crystal City, Texas and several Midwestern states. He studied at the Texas State University and The American University in Washington, DC. Palomo wrote news and opinion for La Otra Voz, The Hays County Citizen, The Houston Post, Austin-American Statesman and USA Today. His chapbook, Al Norte, was published this year by Alabrava Press. He lives in Houston.
by Nolcha Fox
Who is that woman
in the mirror?
It must be my mother,
I am a much
of the woman
that I see.
I wrap myself in
robes of joy,
in my boundaries.
With a spade
I dig a hole
The best revenge
is to blossom.
Nolcha has written all her life, starting with poop and crayons on the walls. That led to a long career in technical writing.
She retired into blogging and writing short stories. However, she found it difficult to capture a moment, to express what can’t really be put into words. In June 2021, she turned to poetry to solve that dilemma. In July 2021, she published her first poem in WyoPoets News.
Her major poetic influences are “The Cat in the Hat” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
We, I Keep Thinking
by Carol L. Deering
A patter of snow
on yesterday’s glut. The sun
blinding just the same.
I balk like the daffodils
I dug in, years ago.
The sun trickles over, and snow
powders through again. A mist
rides the puddled road. Mud
from my tires leaps like frogs.
We’d seen fewer daffodils
Your death of toxic wound,
crumbling spine, asthma,
crashed the covid scare. Strangled
choices from computer voices
cuff me to a chair.
We, I keep thinking.
Our, I keep saying.
Now it’s down
Carol L. Deering has twice received the Wyoming Arts Council Poetry Fellowship (2016, judge Rebecca Foust; 1999, judge Agha Shahid Ali). Her poems appear in online and traditional journals and anthologies, and in her first book, Havoc & Solace: Poems from the Inland West (Sastrugi Press, 2018). http://www.sastrugipress.com/books/havoc-and-solace/ https://www.caroldeering.com
Walk with Me
by Mandie Hines
There is this place I go
to walk with my grandfather’s ghost.
I didn’t realize at first
that’s what I was doing,
But I’ve come to understand
as I work my way across the quiet land
that this is where I speak to him without saying a word.
After all this time,
all this time—these years stacking up
into decades—I still search for him.
This is not a normal way to grieve,
I imagine walking with him
listening intently for his response,
hoping to see some sign he’s next to me
through all the days of my life.
I wonder why this wound,
sometimes feels like it’s healing
and other times feels so fresh.
I wonder if it will ever fully heal.
I wonder if I will ever feel not so broken.
But I’m reminded that it hurts this deep,
it hurts this long,
because of how much I loved him.
How much I love him still
without a body to cling to,
without a person to utter the words.
And so, we’ll walk these walks in silence
where I imagine easy conversations
that will have to sustain me.
Mandie Hines writes poetry and horror where she captures moments of vulnerability and strives to offer a glimmer of hope. Her debut poetry collection Origami Stars & Hot Air Moon (Winter Goose Publishing, 2020)traverses through the process of grieving, reclaiming hope, remembering love, and rediscovering memories, while going down a path that eventually leads to healing. Besides her own writing, she promotes creative writing in her community. Her forthcoming horror novel The Lost Always Take Off Their Shoes is expected to come out in 2022 (Winter Goose Publishing).
She’s the creator of the Facebook group Cheyenne Writers Community where members share local writing events, find encouragement, and connect with other writers. She hosts a monthly Poetry Night at Barnes & Noble in Cheyenne, Wyoming, although this open mic is currently being held online and is open for anyone to join. She’s also the Past President of WyoPoets, Wyoming’s State Poetry Society. You can learn more at http://www.mandiehines.com.
Los días oscuros 172
Los días oscuros 203
Los días oscuros 327
Octavio Quintanilla is the author of the poetry collection, If I Go Missing (Slough Press, 2014) and served as the 2018-2020 Poet Laureate of San Antonio, TX. His poetry, fiction, translations, and photography have appeared, or are forthcoming, in journals such as Salamander, RHINO, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pilgrimage, Green Mountains Review, Southwestern American Literature, The Texas Observer, Existere: A Journal of Art & Literature, and elsewhere. His Frontextos (visual poems) have been published in Poetry Northwest, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Midway Journal, Gold Wake Live, Newfound, Chachalaca Review, Chair Poetry Evenings, Red Wedge, The Museum of Americana, About Place Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, The Windward Review, Tapestry, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, & The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas.
Octavio’s visual work has been exhibited at the Southwest School of Art, Presa House Gallery, Brownsville Museum of Fine Art, Equinox Gallery, The University of Texas—Rio Grande Valley (Brownsville Campus), the Weslaco Museum, Aanna Reyes Gallery, Our Lady of the Lake University, AllState Almaguer art space in Mission, TX, El Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, The Walker’s Gallery in San Marcos, TX, and in the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center / Black Box Theater in Austin, TX. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Texas and is the regional editor for Texas Books in Review and poetry editor for The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism & for Voices de la Luna: A Quarterly Literature & Arts Magazine. Octavio teaches Literature and Creative Writing in the M.A./M.F.A. program at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.
Envy and Hunger
by Nick Trandahl
after viewing Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Tiger Observing Cranes at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
above and below.
To watch them pass by overhead
like angels or demigods,
heading out to sea and sky—
seamless and easy.
Solitude in my ignorance
Confused and anxious—
left behind on hot treeless stone.
I have never felt ahead of any curves.
It’s just taken me so long
to learn and to grow.
How had it been so simple to others?
I know I’ve missed legions of lessons
about how to live and function,
and the importance of words.
I could list them all, but I fear
you’d lose interest—
as I have.
Growth is the most difficult thing
a man can yearn for.
Love is such an easy thing
when compared to it.
Good lord, I have failed
in so many different ways.
It would be so easy to say I’ve failed
at every single thing, if I didn’t have
a good woman to tell me otherwise.
I am hungry for something
that’s always been beyond me—
beyond my reach
It’s ethereal, this thing I seek.
Sinuously adrift, it slips through the sky,
and I don’t have the means within me
to ascend and touch it.
Christ, I don’t even know what it is.
And others seem to be able
to touch it so easily, to rise like Dante
through the celestial spheres—
so assured of truth and reason
in a civilization so bereft of both.
Every time I thought that
I was a witness to a miracle,
it turned out to be something mundane—
something less beautiful
than was first perceived.
Whenever I’ve thought
I’ve found courage or honor,
it had been a precursor to such disgrace
that existence became unbearable.
But I’ve made peace with life.
I have tried to grow
in my own humble quiet way.
I have cultivated a garden within me—
more a rugged pine grove than a garden.
A grove of stunted pine and wild apple,
with a few red foxes roving
like clever rangers in the greenery.
The words of Thoreau and Hemingway
have grown the pines and apple trees.
Rothko and Wolf Kahn have painted
wildflowers and toadstools on the ground.
Vivaldi and Rimsky-Korsakov
have peopled the grove with birdsong.
But this grove is empty of divinity,
and I don’t know the Latin names
of the plants and animals.
This is a quiet little place,
and I fear it won’t be enough.
I’ve been left alone on the
hot crags overlooking the sea.
Even when the morning storm raged
and devoured the southern shore
of Martha’s Vineyard like the greedy maw
of a crazed ancient sea god,
swollen with power—
I was not alone.
She was with me then,
on that angry coast because we
journeyed for love.
But in this—
She has always been able to
ascend like Beatrice into the sun—
like the rest of them.
And when she does, I marvel at her,
and I wither with loneliness.
If I were able to follow her,
I know I’d fall like Icarus
into the perfect blue of the sea
or break myself upon the rocks.
There, on the horizon—
I can still see them, but just barely.
I wonder what
they can see from there.
What do they feel?
What have they learned?
Nicholas Trandahl is a U.S. Army veteran, poet, newspaper journalist, and outdoorsman. He lives in rural Wyoming with his wife and three daughters.
His poetry collections are Pulling Words (Winter Goose Publishing, 2017), Think of Me (Winter Goose Publishing, 2018), and Bravery (Winter Goose Publishing, 2019). His novel Good Brave People, a story about finding love and belonging in Spanish Basque Country, was published by Winter Goose Publishing in 2020.
Trandahl’s poetry collection Bravery was the recipient of the 2019 Wyoming Writers Milestone Award. His poems have been published in various literary journals and anthologies, including but not limited to the James Dickey Review, Sky Island Journal, The Dewdrop, High Plains Register, and a forthcoming anthology from the New York Quarterly themed around spirituality and faith.
Additionally, Trandahl serves as the Chairman of the annual Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest.
by Jamie Feldman
The voice on the radio said there was an accident on the bridge. In rush hour traffic it would take at least an hour to use the alternate route. That’s the problem with harbor cities, there are only so many ways a man can cross the ocean, even if it was just over the basin. The voice directed commuters to take the long way round, driving the old highway that curved along the water’s edge, past the container pier, and finally take the last ramp onto one of the six lanes of the 111. You could get anywhere from the 111. The thought of all these single passengers, listening to the same voice on their car stereos brought thoughts of more idling, snarls, and angry middle fingers being displayed in rearview mirrors. If I was to make it home with any chance of supper being served without a plastic cling wrap cover, I’d need to find a shortcut through the neighboring borough.
I saw it before I smelled it. The plume of black smoke wafted up above the tree line. Traffic had slowed, though it was still moving and I wondered what was burning. Considering the size of the smoke cloud, the blaze would be much too large for a backyard fire pit. I hoped maybe it was a car or shed, but I knew it was too big for even that. I knew the area well. Moira and I had bought our first home in this borough on the outskirts of the city. We raised our girls here until they were in school, opting for a larger place nearer to my work at that point. We could afford it then when Moira went back to the firm. If I had to guess, I’d say the fire was in the vicinity of our old neighborhood. Perhaps the Burger Buddy on the corner had met with misfortune, or maybe some teens lit up the garage on the sports field. All that rubber and fiberglass equipment would make for quite a burn.
As I got closer, I rolled down the window and craned my neck outside. The traffic was at no more than a crawl now and I could see the steady flash of red lights reflecting off the large hamburger shaped Burger Buddy sign ahead. The smoke was on the other side, though, still further ahead. It appeared to be in the area where our old house was. I continued on, riding the brakes as a police officer directed cars into the passing lane. I left the window down to ask him a question but he waved me through without saying a word. The toxic smell of burning plastic wafted into the car now, sticking to the back of my throat. I rolled the window back up and flipped the outside air vent shut. Our house was set back a bit from the road. It had blue siding and a pine veranda, with a small flower garden on the right hand side. Moira liked to keep peonies and azaleas, though when the girls were old enough, she let them sneak in a few seeds of their own. Usually it was just carrots, but the year they chose squash, the vines grew so large we had to take turns moving them in off the driveway. I though Moira would have decided to just get rid of the thing, but at the girls’ insistence, it stayed and we had 23 acorn squash that year. Moira and I both had to get a little creative with our cooking in the months that followed.
The road was wet as I passed the first engine. Faded yellow hoses ran up the hill. I had one last hopeful thought that it might be a grassfire in the neighbor’s yard, but by the time I passed the second engine, I knew it was our place. The trees had grown up, and the tire swing had been cut down, but there was no mistaking where those hoses were leading. I squinted thought the smoke. Firefighters in yellow helmets rushed up the driveway, but not a trace of blue siding was visible though the flames. Only the shell of the house remained, the bay window had been smashed and the kitchen walls had already collapsed. They sprayed water into our old bedroom as the heavy black smoke turned to white.
I hit the brakes inches away from the bumper of a blue sedan. The traffic had snarled beyond the last engine as another officer directed cars back into the right lane. I looked back every few seconds in the rearview mirror until I could no longer see the flashing lights. I thought of the night we first moved in with barely more than a few crates of records and Moira’s old lobster trap coffee table. We got our first set of keys in the middle of a hurricane after the power had gone out. Moira and I bought Chinese takeout from the place two streets over. We ate on the carpet, staining it with blotches of cherry-pink sauce in the dark. We left everything in the U-Haul that night save for a few blankets, and slept on the living room floor as best we could through the thunder and lightning. Back then our furniture consisted mostly of plywood on crates, but that eventually gave way to Ikea self-assembly models, and finally that oak dining set from Sears. The table, the one with the removable leaf, still sat in our current dining room until just last June.
I missed the exit ramp. I found myself thinking of the girls’ first steps, their first words, the penciled in height marks along the bathroom molding. Of course the current owners had probably painted over that long ago. I hoped they were all right, the current owners. Perhaps Mrs. Kilty would help them out and take them in for a while. She always had a way of knowing when we needed a little help, babysitting when our oldest was in the hospital, or cooking us meals after my mother passed away. She would have been in her sixties back then, though, and I heard her husband had a heart attack only a few years after we left.
Two number sevens with a chow mien add-on. Extra sauce,” I said to the woman at the counter. The Chinese horoscope placemats and framed pictures of Shanghai hadn’t changed since the eighties. She handed the order to me in a logoed plastic bag and I headed for home. Our home now was a condo downtown that we moved in to last year after our youngest got married. It was stark white; we never got around to painting. Moira used to be obsessed with the wall color in our other houses, changing it every year. At one point, in our first home, the hall was about seven different colors painted in small sections so she could get a better idea of how it might look in blue, or pink, or eggshell, or lavender. We had to give away a lot of our artwork when we downsized, though we kept a lot of the girls’ keepsakes in memory boxes. Moira got the idea from some Internet website for empty nesters.
I parked the car and took the elevator up to the eleventh. I wasn’t sure if I should tell Moira about the fire or not. I walked down the beige hallway with its identical doors in identical colors and stopped at the last one on the left. I put the key in the lock, noticing the scratch in the gold façade. I had meant to fix that ever since I had chipped it after our anniversary dinner. I think we both had a bit too much to drink that night. Inside, I looked at our unmarked walls, our brand new loveseat, and our perfectly smooth countertops. I hung my coat on the rack, the one with the broken arm and relished in its defect. Toilets clogged with action figures and crayon covered wallpaper seemed like bliss looking back now.
When I walked into the living room, Moira was on the couch watching TV. She hadn’t looked up until now, eyeing the bag in my left hand. Without saying a word, she flicked off the news and slid down to the floor. She patted the carpet beside her. One by one, I removed the Chinese takeout boxes from their plastic bag and set them on the carpet. I pulled apart a set of disposable chopsticks and offered them to her. Moira clumsily stabbed at a chicken ball, dropping it onto the floor as it escaped from her wooden skewer. She looked for my reaction as I set out the napkins. The deep fried morsel rolled across our white carpet, crashing into two complimentary fortune cookies. Neither of us picked it up. The silence was broken by our laughter, as we stared at the cherry-pink stain.
Jamie Feldman holds an M.Phil. in creative writing from Trinity College Dublin. Her past fiction has appeared in Carve, The Honest Ulsterman, and Every Day Fiction. She is originally from Halifax, Canada.