Countermeasures (from Poetry)
Sara Miller

I wish I could keep my thoughts in order
and my ducks in a row.
I wish I could keep my ducks in a thought
or my thoughts in a duck.
My point is that we all exist, wetly, in the hunt.
The ducks are aware of this
in their own way, which is floating.
The way of the mind is brevity.
There may be other thoughts on other days
in the minds of other and better men
and their constant companions, the women,
but these same tidy capsules — never.
This is just one of the things
I noticed about my thoughts
as they passed easefully by.

Comment:

1. I never liked “House, M.D.” much. I don’t mind ridiculous, but it was just stupid. House would abuse Vicodin and that would magically give him his answers (except lupus. It’s never lupus). What really bothered me about the show was that people would come away from watching it and start talking about medicine and science as if anything worked the way it did with Hugh Laurie. I’ll never blame something for its fans except in the circumstance where that “something” is doing all it can and then some to generate an entire culture of idiocy. “House” irritated me like few things could.

2. Anyway, I did wonder at first if the speaker of this poem is on copious amounts of painkillers: “floating,” “tidy capsules,” “thoughts… passed easefully by.” Whether he is or not is unimportant. The speaker’s mind is such that he’s watching his thoughts go by. He’s not in the usual state where we work with them and are led to further thoughts about something.

No, he’s thinking about how thoughts work as a mechanical process of sorts. He feels suspended: is he actually thinking? “I wish I could” occurs twice in the first four lines, when he gets the cliches right initially (“thoughts in order,” “ducks in a row”), then stumbles to two new combinations. Putting “ducks in a thought” or “thoughts in a duck” would be rather helpful for him. “Ducks in a thought” goes back to how thinking (we assume) regularly works, through categorizing like things. That’s not available now, nor is storing the random musings of one’s own brain in another animal entirely (“thoughts in a duck”).

3. “My point is that we all exist, wetly, in the hunt:” a lack of coherence forces one to spit out a metaphor. It makes no sense at first glance. We’re all hunted ducks? Maybe: we all exist hunting thoughts that might as well be ducks. That, weirdly enough, lends plausibility to the reading that we are wet ducks being hunted. When you try to ground identity upon what you think is rationality, you end up in these sorts of circles.

The speaker starts coming back from this tangle, distinguishing himself from the ducks:

The ducks are aware of this
in their own way, which is floating.
The way of the mind is brevity.

The difference between him and the ducks is that the ducks are self-aware. If thought is self-aware, what’s strange is that where that awareness lies – we as individuals are not aware of the awareness of thoughts. We are brief, direct.

4. It isn’t clear what the awareness belonging to thoughts themselves means. Ducks in floating have their own independence. Is our independence in our floating thoughts? Maybe – not quite – what is clear is that there are thoughts we use that do not seem to have such independence:

There may be other thoughts on other days
in the minds of other and better men
and their constant companions, the women,
but these same tidy capsules — never.

There are thoughts that don’t just take control of the world (“better men”) but also win the hearts of others (“constant companions”). The speaker has been in a state some might describe as “not quite conscious” and at that time was muttering things to try and achieve just one. Eventually, one might have been had about the mind. It isn’t clear it was significant; it certainly was vague.

These “thoughts” that take control – are they actually thoughts? Our speaker wasn’t unhappy with what passed “easefully by,” just a bit confused and convoluted. Something makes sense now, though it may be quackery.