The townsfolk worried when the river would crest,
knowing it would flood their precious farmlands
and ruin crops before the Summer harvest,
all so fearful it was out of their hands—
that is, all except Donnie, the local fool
who lived in a white house all fading fast
and didn’t know how to discern a plain mule
from a jackass, or from a looking glass.
Anyhow, Donnie had it in his dense head
that he would save the town from the great flood.
“Give me all your buckets,” Donnie loudly said,
“and I will reduce that river to mud.”
Townsfolk thought this a hell of a hoot, all right,
and so they gave him every bucket,
and so Donnie took them to pail, day and night,
at the river, walking far to chuck it
away from the river, out toward the swamp,
where he fancied he made a difference,
even as the locals would laugh and would stomp
to see him so taken with such nonsense.
By and by, the river crested and then ebbed
as the floodwaters flowed farther on South
to the tributaries, watersheds, all webbed
until the river ran dry at the mouth.
The townsfolk were amazed to see such a thing
and praised Donnie for his supposed feat.
“If you are so grateful,” he said, “make me king!”
The townsfolk all knelt down to kiss his feet.
Thereafter Donnie saw to the floodwaters
whenever the rains fell in a torrent,
and he had much to eat, and many daughters
from the townsfolk, though it was abhorrent.
Each year the river rose, Donnie would bear it
with buckets, scooping it by the liters
as proof of his practice and pledge and merit
as the river rose, or fell, by meters.
But then came a year with such heavy rains
that they feared a forty-day flood was nigh
while the river swelled and broke over the plains,
the current swift, the whitewater crest high.
“Donnie! King! Save us!” they all cried out in woe.
Donnie scoffed at the river, wide and vast.
“I’ll right it,” he said, his orange cheeks aglow.
“You just wait and you’ll see! I’ll fix it fast!”
And so he took up his bucket, and his crown,
and he went to the rabid riverside
where he dipped his big, greedy buckets down
into that roaring, racing river tide.
For days he bailed at the river, growing tired,
yet the river only swelled larger still,
the farmlands and the town becoming but mired
in the bloat of that Leviathan swill.
“You are a fraud!” the townsfolk said to their king,
but he never lost faith, too much the fool
to ever doubt himself in any one thing
as he sought to solidify his rule.
And so Donnie worked at his usual pace,
which is to say, slow…lazy…no swifter
than the Hare when sleeping in the fabled race
against the tortoise, that steady drifter.
But the river was both the tortoise and hare,
for it ran swift while staying in its bed,
or else moved steadily outward, here and there;
whichever way its swelling excess led.
And Donnie waded out in the deep, thinking
he needed to get to the river’s heart
to pail out the most, although he was sinking
to his neck—yet still thinking himself smart.
“You won’t ever beat me, river,” Donnie yelled,
choking on whitewater as it tumbled
like the frothy fury of millions that swelled
until Donnie tripped and gagged and fumbled.
And, at a blink, Donnie was swallowed from sight
beneath the currents he thought he mastered—
his crown and buckets were found the next night:
the river will always have the last word.