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The last homing pigeons disappeared after the War, but when he was young
he raised them from the egg.
They are born ugly, half-dead
with spiky wet pinfeathers and voices like scrap metal
but their feet are delicate and sharp, and when they sleep in your hands
you can feel the thrumming movement of their hearts.
If you held them long enough, they could get used to your smell
and even when you let them go, your palms would feel phantoms
of their pin-scratching feet.
But when he was young, he was older than just twelve
because he knew about starvation and cold and death and he knew
just exactly what his bones looked with nothing to hide themâ€”
and he knew what it was to have wings.
They were ruffed and smooth-feathered and tame
and they trusted him.
Some days they flew from the yard to places that had food
but they came back at sunset, tumbling like acrobats when he clapped,
when the sky was red as roses, blue as violets.
They smelled like dust and straw and feathers when he latched the trap-door
safe from foxes and rats and dark. And they were his
It’s too easy to get complacent, he tells me.
His brother was getting married, and there was no food
(there never was)
so he saw it coming. He chased his birds from the yard before sunrise
when it was still dim and they were sleepy,
slow-moving as sweet molasses. He chased them
with shouts and sticks and stones but no hope;
they were homing pigeons. They would always come back to him.
He hid in their shed till sunset, smelling the feathers and straw,
feeling invisible feet on his palms, till his mother found him
and told him to kill them himself;
his brother needed food
and she didn’t have time for feeling.
She had never seen them flying.
At sunset, they came tumbling through the air,
a fantastical circus of feathers.
He clapped, and they flew spiraling towards the sun,
then cartwheeled to the ground.
And they trusted his hands on their ruffed throats.
The last homing pigeons disappeared after the War
when he was young, eighteen
(but older than that, because he learned guns and bombs
and skeletons with pregnant bellies in death camps).
Years later he would raise airplanes from metal bones because
he knew exactly what his own bones looked like with nothing to hide them.
But they never let him fly,
spiraling towards the sunâ€”