I learned something recently while reading about pigeons for a story I was working on: pigeons have been a part of cities for as long as there has been such a thing as cities. I think that’s fascinating; so far, only one person I’ve told this to has reacted with what I consider a suitable amount of awe. Other folks have responded as if it were something they already knew. And maybe, in a sense, they did. Ancestral memory.
The dove–which is a fancy name for a pigeon–is included as part of the earliest stories and symbolism of civilization. They appear in the epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest Sumerian myths. From the time humans first caught the machine infection and began mutilating the landscape into grids full of buildings, we have used pigeons to deliver messages. They have an ability to find their way home, an ability that still remains a mystery to the mad science of Babylon; no matter how many pigeons they torture, cut up, and otherwise experiment on, they still don’t know exactly how pigeons do it.
Pigeons are a totem animal of the citygod, like rats and roaches. And people hate pigeons. “Rats of the sky,” folks call them. Nevermind that they’re just winged people doing their best to survive–in yet another manifestation of the delusion of human supremacy, we regard them as lowly, dirty pests. Well, newsflash, folks; they’re here because we brought them here. To serve us. Like dogs and oxen and cows.
Another interesting note about pigeons: they mate for life. There is a pair of pigeons who live in one of the trees in my backyard, pigeon spouses. They’re tan-colored, with black spots. I see them together all the time. The other morning I went out on the back porch, and there another pair of small birds doing some kind of squabbling dance around the yard. It looked like they were fighting, like one was harassing the other, but since I don’t know them like that I can’t be sure. The pigeon couple was sitting on the edge of my disintegrating wicker bench, watching the other birds go at it.
The whole scene was absurd and wonderful in the way that only wild beings can manifest. Truth be told, I experienced a degree of melancholy watching it. I often have that feeling when I’m watching wild folks do their thing, because I cannot help but think of all those beings who will never dance or sing or run or mate again, crushed into extinction by the cancer of urbanization. The ones who continue to live, who survive on the asphalt, well… their lives are, like ours, a kind of half-life. Perhaps those pigeons even remember their ancestral heritage, the flocks of their winged relatives who used to darken the sky in their migrations. Now, the sky is darkened by poison. Like us, they used to have healthy food and water; now, like us, they get diabetes from eating poison food.
There was another reason for my melancholy, though. Watching the pigeon couple reminded me of what I have lost. I spent a year in a relationship with a woman I loved deeply and truly. She struggled with addiction and all the pathology that comes out of a history of oppression, deprivation, and abuse, and ultimately our relationship fell victim to that struggle. At this point it’s been about seven months since we split up, and I don’t miss her or love her any less than I did when we first broke up. By her request, I have not seen her or spoken with her in all that time. Although, from time to time, she still visits me in my dreams.
For awhile, we were that pigeon couple. Mated for life, doing everything together. We two became one. We had what they have. And I loved it. Even when it was hard, even when our demons went to battle against each other and I was angry and sad and frustrated, I never had any doubt that together we could overcome those struggles and be better for it. I still believe that. My tan-skinned mate with the black hair and dark eyes has flown off; I can only hope she finds her way home.