Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Duet for Spackle
Monday, January 24, 2022 | Hannah Berger


(1, beginning)

This is my first thought: that, inexplicably, ducks have been made to get stuffed in festive contexts of clashing cultural significance. Foie gras is a duck being stuffed with feed, and the turducken is a duck being stuffed with a chicken, then being stuffed into a turkey. Specifically, foie gras is the liver of a duck who has been force-fed for twelve-and-a-half days. It is a delicacy whose cruelty is protected by French law. The turducken, whose “stuffedness” is arranged after the deaths of all involved, is a meme in the American mythos, which means that it is an abomination. 


On the day the duck died, the children lined up with Mexican sunflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, purple loosestrife, asters, goldenrod, and folded pieces of manila paper that held crayon messages or prayers addressed to Spackle



Figure 1. Spackle, pencil on paper, 3 x 7 inches.



Whose name I learned in this way: “I guess his [sic] name was Spackle.” One of the big kids had found her in the duck hutch that afternoon. 


Spackle was placed in a strawberry-patterned sheet while she awaited her burial. When the kids saw that Marshmallow/Clover, the one with the broken leg and the dirty white feathers, was, as always, floating in her aluminum tub, they cheered, “Oh, it wasn’t Marshmallow! It wasn’t Clover!”



I bring up the concept of “stuffedness,” because it has been whispered as the unofficial cause of death. Following the burial, my boss said that if we hadn’t buried Spackle so soon, we could have opened her up to look inside. We saw nibble-marks on the blue insulating foam on the walls of the duck hutch. Before then, I had assumed that the cause of death was “being in service to a children’s summer camp,” because this appeared to be the cause of all other destruction on the farm: the muddy patches of dirt where grass used to grow; the infant vole that the white-blond child grabbed and squeezed; the hand-soap bubbles that piled up under the outdoor sink; all the plants ripped from the ground in elated fits; and, more obliquely, the old hen’s scabbing back patches, plucked bare by the rooster; the sheep’s lost horn; and, finally, Spackle. It was Spackle, stuffed or sick or exasperated, in whom we decided to place our remorse. The bird is swathed in its own Manila sympathy cards and flowers. Only the hard parts remain. 



The hard parts are unskillfully written words. And bones. Manila paper is no longer made of the Manila hemp that gave it a name, but, being paper, it does degrade. Crayons are made from paraffin wax, which does not. In the heat of decomposition, the wax may have melted. I tend to think that only the paper will soften into dirt, leaving the words on their own.



A ghost is made like this: there is something/someone, real enough in that enough of us agree it is real, until a threshold materializes and the realness falls off of it. Myths and media hold that the ghost is a ghost because it is bound to recurring cycles of disquiet. But isn’t that us? Prodding limp and hoping for not-limp. This prodding is much like a haunting—a compulsive return to what must then be reconceived as void.



Figure 4. Studio Rag, studio rag, Elmer’s glue, 2.5 x 16 x 5.5 inches.




Figure 5. Spackle Being Let Down, pencil on paper, 2.5 x 5.5 inches.




I tend to comfort myself with sweeping and brutal phrases, and I believe in them. Living is all about the degradation of everything other than ourselves, and the virtuous of us try to neutralize the degradation through restoration, or we try to degrade in smaller amounts. Perhaps children test the limits of their agency by willing the inevitable degradation that is required for survival, or by role-playing it. When I was little, my friends and I caught lizards, watched them get dark with fear, buried them when they died, and made mud pies for their funerals. We caught earthworms and held worm wrestling matches, forced roly-polies to walk the tightrope that we stretched over our circus-in-a-bucket, stole grapefruits from a neighborhood tree and left piles of pulp on the porches of our enemies, streaked palm trees with spackle. On that day, we called ourselves the Spackle Bandits. 



It’s weird that the duck was called Spackle, instead of Speckle, or Sparkle. Spackle is this thing that we stuff into holes and then scrape flat, so that it looks like there were never any holes at all. In dying, Spackle the duck became a transmutable “sorry” that we could smash into anything and smooth over. 



Working with children makes the “sorrys” come easy, because none of them pretend to be interested in what a farm could offer. They like the playset and the plastic toys, and prefer playing with stuffed animals over petting the real sheep. And this, and the absence of talk about environmental stewardship, sustainability literacy, or land access from most of the people I encountered (the people being either four years old or exhausted), and the butt I wiped, and the bleeding noses I stanched, and the girl that dug her nails into my hand and kicked my shins, and the fact that I was paid less than the minimum wage of the city I had just left, even though I was paying more in rent than I had ever paid in that city—all of that made the Job with Values feel a lot like the Jobs with No Values with which I was so familiar. Then each summer afternoon the parents, many of whom were also from the city I had just left, picked up their children and felt better about raising them in temperature-controlled environments for the remainder of the year. And the farm, having offered its values to children, felt better about itself too. 



I think that this is American: tucking a thing into a thing into a thing so that

a) about the process: few could tell you what was brutishly thrusted and what was carefully finessed, and

b) about the product: what we know is that many people are disgusted by it, while others serve it proudly, and 

c) the very existence of a product denotes its immaculate or inevitable origins, so that a process retroactively becomes a birth. For example, on Google, the first suggested search term following turducken is “turducken real animal,” meaning that enough people have wondered if the turducken is a miracle of evolution rather than a poultry-themed engastration experiment.


Even I am using Spackle to fill something. I’ve trapped her ghost in my studio. I’ve made the mud pie.



Beyond Birthday Mud Pie, antique commode, mud, crayon wax, wicks, flame, 25 x 18 x 13".



I’ve made a story from just one death on—of all places—a farm: a place that is constantly dying and coming back to life. 


(13, end)

The farm kept the ducks in a wire enclosure with the chickens, who would often flutter over the fence. The ducks never went anywhere, even as geese and great blue herons flew overhead to visit the golf-course ponds across the street. If I had known the first thing about Spackle—that is, not her name, but her breed—I would have known that she was too heavy to fly. She was born that way. It is also no secret that her ancestors were engineered to stay put so that they could be roasted.

Hannah Berger is an artist and writer based in the Hudson Valley of New York. 

Editorial support by Sophia Larigakis.