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The Mumbler Speaks of Pigeon Wars


Hailing a Cab

The Mumbler Speaks of
Pigeon Wars

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Completely Well: For B.B. King and Wallace Stevens

April Dancing: For Dietrich

The Left Hand of God

Passing Thru for Ti Jean

The Rosary of Dachau

Listen, don't laugh
but I just cant tell you
what it all means to me

When the Fall wind rushes like this
puffing out this tattered black and gold
satin high school jacket and ruffling
these just going gray locks of mine
into flying away when I coo
to my pigeons. Today it is war

Of catch and keep with a mumbler
everybody knows as "Lefty." "Lefty" and his flock
coop on the roof at the end of the block
cater-cornered to my own. We are enemies

Some say, "...enemies on the roof and friends
on the street." But I say bullshit!
Roof or street any mumbler with the birds
in his blood plays for keeps. Look, if your
flock by chance or teasing or whatever lures
a stranger from the enemy to your roof, you know
in your heart that you've got that pigeon's
mumbler by the short feathers. And, brother,
that hurts. We all know it hurts because there
ain't a mumbler dead or alive among us who hasn't
at one time or another, lost one of his own.
And that kind of pain, believe me, has only two
chances of going away--slim and none. And it sure
as hell don't go away by waltzing down no flights
of stairs. Do you get my drift?

The joke of the game goes:

I catch yours
and you catch mine

mine just don't
get caught
Get it?

For me playing for fun just don't get it.
I mean, you risk the same as the other bum--
so when you win or you lose you got to
win or lose for real. That's the whole point
of pigeons, as I see it.

Now I ain't saying it ain't sad
when one of your own winds up
in another mumbler's hands. Jesus,
for days you keep hearing those wings
flapping back to the roof even though
you know it's only the wind playing with
what you want to hear or another bird whose
sound is a dead ringer for the one you lost.

Hey, did you catch Brando on the tube last night?
He played this ex-pug on the late show
who's a mumbler too. He crosses the Mob
and they clean out his coop. Every last pigeon
poisoned or something. Not for real, mind you,
just for the purposes of the story. Anyway,
Brando, this big tough bastard, starts bawling.
He cries, I swear on my mother, real goddamn tears,
real goddamn tears in a movie, a movie on T.V.
I've never seen anything like that. You can't fake
something like that. It was just too real to be
an act. Somehow, somehow, that son-of-a-bitch
knew, he knew in his damn heart what a bird
can mean to a man.

Naturally, my wife, she don't understand.
She don't know what a bird can mean to man.
She keeps at me. "You, you, you and them friggin'
birds! I swear to God, Lester (that's what she calls
me but the boys they still call me, "The Kid")
If there was some way for you to be queer for them
pigeons, you would. Sometimes I wonder what you
and them other bird bums really do up there
on the roof all day. Friggin' birds!"
Friggin' birds! Friggin' birds! Friggin' her!
What's a woman know from pigeons, anyway!

Understand, I don't want the world or nothing--
a couple of beers, a few Mets games with the boys,
some sack time with the old lady when the birds
ain't getting up her ass too bad. And, it goes
without saying, the birds. The job, hell, I' m union
and the bucks ain't bad but it's just a way, really
it's just a way to get up here on the roof. The pigeons
when they're flying--there's not a thing in this
world can touch them. They are any afternoon's

Sometimes I think it's a damn event
that anything gets off the ground in the city.
Just look at them, will you! Catch the moves!
Watch them toying with those clowns of "Lefty's"!
A flock of damn feathered kites that's what
they are. A flock of feathered kites that's
really only one kite bigger than life that can
cape this roof with its shadow. All their wings
a single wing that listens only to me
and rides the string of my whistle home. 


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