Pigeons

By Edward Butscher

A dark, lean, hard man who spoke little
forever hatted like a taxicab driver, his
childish smile rare as a peacock unfolding
below the flock of pigeons that exploded
from upturned palms like electrified stones
his form distinct above us on the tenement
roof: a foreign saint set against rabid clouds.

He was our uncle, we were told, but he never
looked at us, shy as a Dutch tulip, and my
father said in secret (man to man) that he was
only a cousin from the family’s corrupt branch
where blood seethed wild with syphilis herds
and was thin enough to candle eggs—his wife
a huge balloon figure sloped over a kitchen
window chair who could not bear children.

It was on the Lower East Side, just after the war
when we first glimpsed him and his pigeon host
and I guessed from the way my father gauged
his rooster frame that he was unique, a specimen
divine in the madness propelling him into the sky
each morning, a laugh like startled mallards as he
unlatched the wire door and slowly pivoted on tar
paper in tune, in time, to circling shafts of light.

Near the end of both their lives, my father and he
sat side by side in a urine-stained couch to monitor
TV soap operas. Teeth gone, nearly deaf, he could
not stop clucking as my father sipped his headless
beers, reciting newspaper horror stories by rote—
fried infants, raped co-eds, tortured cats—asking
me once if I had ever tasted a “coon hair pie.”

At my father’s wake, he slumped alone in the rear
and played with himself, cave grin bearing witness
to the betrayal of our shared laughter, and soon he
was also dead, his wife dancing in a thin nightgown
on the griddle of a snow-ribbed street, while black
attendants handled him gently into an ambulance,
dawn horizon bleak as a tossed purse, pigeons
ascending like tattered angels from my mouth.

___

Born and raised in Flushing, Queens, Edward Butscher’s poems, stories, reviews, and essays have appeared in a wide variety of journals since the early 1970’s, including the Saturday Review of Literature, Poetry, Georgia Review, Newsday, and the American Book Review. In 1976 Seabury Press published his Poems About Silence and Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness, first biography of the controversial poet. He also edited Sylvia Plath: The Woman and the Work (1978) for Dodd, Mead, and his Adelaide Crapsey was published in 1979 as a title in Twayne’s United States Authors series.

Cross Cultural Communications published two collections of his poems, Amagansett Cycle (1980) and Unfinished Sequence (1981), and his only novel, Faces on the Barroom Floor, appeared from Contemporary Press in 1984. He co-edited (with Irving Malin) a special issue of Twentieth Century Literature in 1986 devoted to the work of Paul Bowles. His Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale, published in 1988 by the University of Georgia Press, won the Poetry Society of America’s Melville Cane Award for that year

Edward Butscher is the author of Peter Wild (1992) in the Western Writers of America series and Eros Descending (1992), a group of lyrics from an on-going sequence issued as a Dusty Dog Chapbook, and has been a contributing scholar for a number of reference works, among them, The Reference Guide to Short Fiction (St. James Press), MaGill’s Survey of Contemporary Poetry, and Oxford University’s Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English.


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