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 a tenement roof:

a foreign saint set against rabid clouds.

 

He was our uncle, we were informed, but

he never looked at us, shy as a Dutch tulip,

and my father said in secret (man to man)

that he was a cousin from the family’s wild

branch where blood seethed with syphilis

bugs and was thin enough to candle eggs—

his wife a balloon shape 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

in tune, in time, to circling shafts of darkness.

 

Near the end of 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 did not stop

clucking as they sipped headless beers, reciting

newspaper horror tales by rote—fried infants, raped

nuns, tortured cats—asking if I had ever tasted

“a coon hair pie” or rode in a rumble seat.

 

At my father’s wake, he slumped alone in the back

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 nightgown

on the griddle of a snow-ribbed street as black

attendants handled him gently into an ambulance,

dawn horizon bleak as a tossed purse, pigeons

ascending like tattered angels from my awe.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.


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