V. Batyko


One spring, a mother mallard docked in my best friend Allie’s swimming pool. She stayed until
summer broke through the months, then nested her poolside clutch. We didn’t swim once that
summer before sixth grade, just sat on the roof and stared at the duck, waiting for something to
happen. The solstice came and went. No father came around. Nothing was ready to hatch. We got
charred in July, our shoulders peeling like bark off the California sycamore we climbed for a
better view, beads of sweat gaining consciousness under our arms. The mallard’s head looked so
real, floating in a false body of water. I worried the chlorine might fade her orange feet or dye
them green the way it did my hair, but of course she was fine. Mallards are resilient. They make
do with what they have. The ones in Echo Park have adapted to the noise of ice cream street carts
and fake swan peddle boats, while those who’ve been hunted in the past flinch at the clack of a
fallen branch. They sleep in cliques to keep safe, the edge duck standing guard while the middle
ones rest. I began to spend most nights at Allie’s, slept in the top bunk once full with her older
brother Mark, and I’d think of him while lying in the dip his body wore into the bed. When my
father came to pick me up unannounced, Allie hid me in the pool storage closet, wedged me in
with foam noodles and the heavy scent of Banana Boat. It was the first time I’d been alone in
weeks. When Allie came knocking on the closet door, face candied from a stubborn cry, I knew it
was time to go. A wide warm smallness between us cracked. Midday sun struck, and the pool
bent its light like cell division. The mallard dipped her head beneath the surface. The water
shook in reply.

V. Batyko (they/them) is a poet from Los Angeles, California. They hold an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. They are the recipient of the Joan Grayston Poetry Prize from the University of Washington, and the Beau J. Boudreaux Poetry Award from the University of Southern California. Their work has recently been published in Ninth Letter and Unbroken, and they were a finalist for Columbia Journal's 2019 Winter Contest.