Posted by: David Weimer | October 23, 2010

“Pigeons I have known” in Memphis and Pittsburgh–upcoming book excerpt

1998, Memphis, Tennessee.

I kick at the pigeon.  He dodges.  I nudge at him.  Doesn’t do any good.  Now he’s poking around the road sign.  Seems as though we traded spots.  He keeps one eye on me.  I was trying to shoo him into the grass alongside the tracks.  There is a lot of traffic; a train might be coming.

It’s not the only time this has happened.  In Pittsburgh, I was walking home after work.  It was raining, kind of cold, and I had a backpack on under a green rain poncho.  I was just enjoying the rainy day and walking in the cold toward a warm apartment where my wife and our two cats were waiting.  I was on O’Hara Street, on the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh where I graduated in December a few months before.  Right behind Soldiers and Sailors memorial I saw a pigeon on the sidewalk at the rear of the building.  It caught my attention because it was just sitting there.  Its wings were hanging down and it wasn’t walking.  I stopped and stared and then squatted down to get a closer look.  It didn’t move at all and I saw it’s head was rough looking, like it gave up on grooming or it didn’t have enough feathers there.  After a minute I decided it was dying.

I thought about the years this bird lived and how it’s death would mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.  I felt sad and looked for a branch.  I was going to end its misery.  There was no branch close by while I searched and silently planned how I would strike the mercy blow.  I don’t know when it occurred to me that I was going to put the creature out of my misery.

Because I found myself considering that I had never considered this bird at all—from its life point of view.  So I went back and squatted down on the sidewalk near the pigeon again.  My backpack, a carry-over from college days and a convenient way to carry my lunch and a book, held up the poncho, which pulled tight across my shoulders.  It kept raining.

I decided I would stay there until it died.  That here was this bird, alone, and I would be its companion in its final moments.  Its eyes were shut and I nudged it with the back of my hand.  Its lid opened slightly to show a red eye.  It didn’t seem to care what was happening around it.  Maybe it sensed my good intentions.

I settled down, full of patience.  This had become a priority and if I was late getting home I would calmly explain it to Katherine and she would understand.  I focused on the bird’s breathing, became attuned to its every shiver and movement.  After a while, I found myself mentally leaning towards death and resolution.  Come on, sleep, that’s right.  After a few false endings, I began looking at my watch.

Twenty minutes later, I began to notice people again on the sidewalk behind me.  The wind blew, the rain fell, it was growing dark, and I picked up the pigeon and walked it to the back steps of the war memorial.  I set it down where I thought it would be more protected from the wind.  I mentally made a note to not touch anything until I washed my hands, and looked at my watch again.  I looked back once and I left, continuing on O’Hara towards home.  It was after dark when I walked up the steps in our apartment building, and I told Katherine about the pigeon and we ate dinner.

The next day I went that way again, looking for any sign of the pigeon.  Nothing.  Pigeons are magical, I decided.  Like elephants, they have their own Shangri-La graveyard where they are eternal.  You never see a dead one.  Or a baby one, for that matter.  Maybe it didn’t die.

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