A PIGEON’S TALE (in honor of Armistice Day)

An American pigeon named Cher Ami was given the Croix de Guerre in World War One for meritorious service. Nowadays with the drones targeting people on the other side of the planet, that seems so innocent. Cher Ami carried messages in a little cannister across enemy lines. She saved an entire battalion, was shot in the chest and lost a leg, died of her wounds, and was stuffed. Her one-legged corpse is perched jauntily in the “Price of Freedom,” exhibit at the National Museum.

One! Two! Three! Four! Charlie Chaplin went to war/He taught the ladies how to dance/And this is what he taught the/Heel, toe, over you go/Salute to the king, Bow to the queen/Turn your back on the submarine. (jump-rope rhyme, NYC, 1939)

Who doesn't love the brave little pigeon?/Petite Cher Ami, l'savioress des perdus./Voler la-bas bleu/you’d need d'un coeur de malachite.

Years ago I met a man on 4th Street who raised pigeons to race. He kept them in a big wire cage attached to his window-frame, so they were only half outside. “I love ‘em dearly,” he said. His wife left him because of the mess. He seemed like a man from the past. With his big slabby hands and his musty bird smell.

In March, 1939, a pet canary is delivered to St. Clare's Hospital/via carrier pigeon to cheer up ten-year-old Margaret Gillen/who's been in the hospital for six weeks/ Her father works for the WPA./She's going to name her canary “Darling.

I like the idea of those old skies. With pigeons streaking across instead of drones. In Kabul, Afghanistan, pigeon training is still a popular sport. Flocks dive and spin, conducted by a man with a cloth flag standing on a rooftop. The Taliban banned bird training, bombs shattered homes, and still the pigeons fly. Like they have since the time of the Mughal Empire in the 1500s.

The carrier pigeon flew 20 miles in 42 minutes./He's being groomed to assist the Army Signal Corps,/ferrying maps across enemy lines. Should war come./And war always comes./It's the brink we built our home on./ Teeter-totter. Teeter-totter.