On November 29 the remains of a pigeon lie along the path of my morning walk—the wings, the spine, two crabbed feet, other inedible parts. Between November 27 and December 24 they lie one day to the right of the path, the next to the left, and the next again to the right. I imagine a hungry cat examining them, dragging them here or there, gnawing at them hopefully, then discarding them in disappointment. On December 25, before dawn, a light snow falls, leaving the wings visible in angelic relief; then on December 27 a heavy snow: they disappear.
By January 16 the snow is gone. Only one wing now: humerus, radius, ulna, carpometacarpus. With it, the pelvic girdle, the spoon-like crests of the ilium, the synsacrum. The flight feathers have lost their luster; the vanes, the barbs, barbules, and barbicels, are breaking down; the calami and rachides extrude. On January 18 I find one missing leg, then on January 20 another: tibiotarsus, tarsometatarsus, the phalanges of the hallux and the other digits, the claws.
It’s January 25: nothing has touched the pigeon in five days. There’s been a cold snap, and in the morning, crows come in pairs and threes to take peanuts from a flowerpot I’ve mounted on the fence with an iron ring. They approach the flowerpot cautiously, fly off quickly, leave no trace.
Pigeons often line up along the parapet of the cement-block building next door or wander the backyard picking up sunflower-seed hulls in search of stray kernels, waiting for me to put down fresh seed. This morning as I stepped from the house, pigeons flew in all directions, clapping their wings in alarm, and then there was a thrashing in the branches of the crab apple—a Cooper’s hawk and a pigeon, the hawk running the unlucky pigeon down, driving it to the ground in a burst of feathers. But in an instant the pigeon bolted, cutting a path to the open sky with its sharp wingbeats, leaving the hawk, now the unlucky one, behind. Cooper’s hawks hunt by ambush and not by pursuit: the hawk had lost the advantage.
I have watched the pigeons’ endless starts into the air from their habitual perch along the ridges of the bell tower of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church. I have always assumed that the pigeons’ agitation meant a hawk was near. But it occurs to me today that sometimes it’s just practice—these sudden bursts of flight, the wheeling and shifting of the flock in the air, the way two or three or five will veer off on their own before the entire flock comes to rest again on the bell tower moments later, too soon, it has always seemed to me, for any real danger to have been averted.
It’s winter here. I have been reading a book about pigeons: when the ground is covered with snow, it says, pigeons miss their points of guidance and are lost. How soon will the pigeons come back, I wonder now, and how soon the hawk?
Our friends are visiting. We are sitting in the backyard having wine and a nice Manchego before dinner. I tell them about my pigeon, how robust and handsome he is, how he stands on the edge of the box gutter outside the kitchen window and peers in as I wash the dishes, how he looks me directly in the eye, how he guards the little pile of seed I put on the ground for him and drives the other pigeons away, even his own fledged offspring, whom he punishes for their hunger by grasping and twisting the flesh of their necks in his beak so that they struggle and mewl.
My friend asks, So what is it that you like about him?
I am at a loss to answer.
Pigeons and Hawks
On my morning walk I cross the tracks that lead to the grain mill on the outskirts of town. The mill-bound trains drop grain as they pass, on which the pigeons come to feed. The hawks know this: they too come to feed at the tracks, leaving behind loose circles of fine white feathers, souvenirs of the kill.
In my backyard I too put down grain for the pigeons, as the hawks are well aware; and from time to time I will find such a feather circle there. As the days pass, the feathers scatter and drift; rain comes, and they attenuate to thin white lines and disappear against the ground.
And I ask myself, which am I feeding, the pigeons or the hawks? The truth, I suspect, is that on some days I am feeding the pigeons, but on other days I choose to feed the hawks.
Rachel Careau earned an MFA in writing from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts of Bard College. Her poetry has appeared in Notus, o·blēk, Hodos, Big Allis, and Raddle Moon, and she is the author of one collection, Itineraries (St. Lazaire Press, 1991). She is currently completing a translation of Roger Lewinter’s Histoire d’amour dans la solitude, the first story of which appeared in Avec in 1990 as “Story of Love in Solitude.” She lives in Hudson, New York.
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