turtle dove

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image by tim hewitt-coleman

we used to set traps for birds
wire basket or rusted carcass
of birdcage propped
on a forked stick.
we sprinkled chicken food
on the shadowed ground,
tied string to the stick
and tested the fall a few times
before running the long line
to where we waited behind a wall
or under the geraniums
thick with the smell
of bruised leaves and dry earth.

we waited for turtle doves
in that heavy silence
like you wait for a poem –
you know if you can out wait it,
it will come. and they did,
gentle faces looking this way and that
dipping heads bobbing with every step.
and still we waited
the silence so heavy on us now
neither of us could breathe. cat keen,
the string held motionless taut
across my brothers finger
pinned under his thumb
ready.

they always paused
before stepping under the trap.
did they know we were there
bellies to the ground
hearts beating loud in the dust –
could they hear us.
one more step.
he tugged the string and as one
we jumped up running to claim our prize
the air a clatter of wings.
we never caught them.
they would sit on low branches
watch us reset the trap
re asses our angles
put down more food
wait the long holidays away
behind geraniums.

it was years later and taller
i came around the corner of an outbuilding
to find my brother roasting a dove
on a makeshift fireplace
its small charred body
irrevocably incapable of flight.
i tasted guilt and the complicity of my crime
in that burnt air
even though i shared no part in this butchering
and would not eat of the flesh.

i had never thought why we tried to catch them
except perhaps to hold for a moment
my longing for flight
sticky shaking hands grasping the greys
deepening to purple, almost pink
on the soft feather breast.
to feel the miracle of those wings
push against my hands
as i opened them to the sky
her quick heart beating in my chest.

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