It starts with mourning doves —
an ongoing blog, a weekly exploration,
a practice in practice. where will we go?
december 18, 2020
Looking back on these writings from the past few months, I find myself thinking about the desire to see mourning doves through human-tinted glasses. Starting even with the name; we call them mourning doves because some group of people thought their cries sounded like human mourning. We have no idea what mourning doves sound like when they mourn — we don’t even know if they mourn! Yet their sound is legible enough to read as a human sound, a sound specific to a human ritual. (I do think animals probably mourn, and maybe they cry or sing when they mourn, but it seems far-fetched to assume that the sound of their mourning mirrors ours.)
I found myself drawn to mourning doves’ qualities that resembled, or could be interpreted as, similar to humans:
They choose one mate.
They mate for life.
They build a home for their family.
They divide up domestic labor.
And for some reason, identifying these “human” qualities in non-human animals feels poetic, powerful and interesting.
Of course, I’m unsurprised that this reminds me of the phenomenon that I always seem to come back to in my writing — happysad. Which is an idea that I can only really explain, weirdly enough, by thinking again of animals. Hedgehogs in winter huddling together for warmth, only to poke each other with their spikes, consequently get cold, then huddle again for warmth, then poke, etc. The desire for closeness combined with the ultimate futility of that desire is to me, a very, very human thing.
(I don’t think that this feeling is distinct to humans, but I do think that it’s an integral part of being a sentient person.)
These posts ended up being an outlet for whatever it felt like I was thinking about — death, family, love, growth, community, ghosts. They weren’t about mourning doves much at all. Mourning doves became the canvas for whatever I was thinking about, and it turned out they’re a very versatile canvas; the more I think about them, the more it feels like anything I’m dealing with can be projected onto them — their wings, their livelihood, their mating patterns, whatever.
This feels very generous on the part of the mourning dove.
This also links learning with poetry for me; the more actual facts and history I learned about these animals, the more poetic they felt.
I suppose this whole thing made me feel more certain that the mundane can be heartbreaking, the factual can be poetic, the most simple can be the most vast. Mourning doves are very common in North America. One might think that makes them less special. Yet that’s what got me so much about them — my dad’s experience wasn’t unique.
Everyday, every season, people all over this continent fall in love with mourning doves. Mourning doves settle on porches and balconies and the owners of those porches and balconies become obsessed. Imagine all these little people, looking out the window at a mourning dove, mapping out hopes and dreams along contours of wings and beaks.
How generous of the mourning dove.
november 24, 2020
would that I could!
This could be a metaphor
november 22, 2020
Another bookstore was going out of business, so I ordered a bunch of books about death
They never arrived
november 10, 2020
I thought I almost lost you!
Lost me? No.
This series keeps repeating in my head for some reason, like a song.
Lost me? No.
Lost me? No.
Sometimes I try to think of what you’re doing at any exact moment
I take my time and subtract three and think
Oh she’s probably making dinner
Or sitting down to work
Or waking up to start the day
Most of the time this happens right before bed
And I think, she’s probably watching TV.
I can picture it so vividly
You’re sitting on the couch —
I remember the couch we had before that couch, it was so huge it was endless!
You’re in the corner, head craning towards the screen
Veins on your neck
Hands on your lap
Eyes watering, probably
It gives me the most peculiar feeling of unhfnfhf
Something about the combination of the clarity and the distance
I have to swallow a few times
And then I go to bed.
Lost me? No.
Even when it happens
(a long time from now)
Even when my memory goes
A bunch of folks weigh in or, The NextDoor Play
october 29, 2020
More dead birds have been showing up around Park Slope
october 18, 2020
[I wrote this while listening to "Grand Russian Fantasia (Arr. D. Hunsberger for Wind Ensemble)" on Wynton Marsalis’s 1987 album Carnaval. Maybe listen to it while reading this, or listen to it and then read this, or do neither. Either way, I love that song.]
In ghost stories the ghosts always seem linked to a place,
doomed to traverse the same halls
or wander the same gardens or walk the same circles
over and over
over and over
over and over
over and over
Mourning doves, supposedly, have a proclivity for returning.
A tendency to come back to where they’ve been.
And this makes me think about, what about ghosts that like to travel?
Mourning doves with no interest in coming back?
Let’s go to Paris!
Let’s go to Machu Pichu!
I’ll walk and you fly, I’ll glide and you fly
Let’s go to a mountain in Ecuador and a waterfall in Canada!
Imagine ghosts traveling in droves and mourning doves flying over head
A travel bus full of transparencies and escorted by what dinosaurs became
En route to somewhere fabulous, somewhere new, somewhere none of them had been
Wouldn’t that be something? the ghosts who stay at home say
They feel some feeling like they feel they should go home
Let’s go to paris!
Let’s go to a mountain!
let’s get to canada already
A bus on a freeway that goes back to your family,
back to the base
back to the house you grew up in
even if you didn’t die there
even if you had no letters left
to return to sender
imagine the eiffel tower
imagine the water
imagine the staggering heights
imagine machu pichu
october 5, 2020
You’re supposed to sing to get a mate. And sure, Parmesan wanted a mate. (Parmesan was a childhood nickname; he had a real name that was something else, but everyone called him Parmesan.) And so, Parmesan sang. Everyday he was like:
sitting on the twig where he grew up (his parents long gone of course) waiting to see if anyone would respond. He kept singing
day in and day out, expecting some beautiful lady mourning dove to swing around the bend and be like
Parmesan, oh Parmesan!
but everyday it was Parmesan, alone, on his twig, singing and waiting.
His voice carried. Across the street, bumping off the lamppost, swimming down the street, spilling down hill towards the ocean. The sound muffled in the fog but eventually made it all the way to the water and sure enough, just a few days later, a lady mourning dove appeared, swinging around the bend, pivoting at the stop sign, and headed right towards Parmesan!
Parmesan looked up at her and she said
you come here often?
And he didn’t know what to say so he just sat there and then she asked
So what’s your name?
And he told her
And she said
Do you want to live together for the rest of our lives?
And Parmesan said
So the lady mourning dove flew over to the twig where Parmesan grew up and rested her weary feet. They chatted. Told each other secrets. Exchanged sad memories. Laughed at some jokes they created that no one else would understand. She said he could call her Pasta. He laughed and said
and she said
and they had a really nice night.
so then in the morning it was time to start crafting the nest, so after the sun rose Pasta was like
Well I’m off!
And Parmesan watched her fly away. During the day, it was her job to gather twigs and whatnot to fashion the nest, and his job to guard the nesting grounds. Then they would switch at night.
Parmesan sat on the twig where he grew up, quietly. He didn’t have to sing anymore, of course, since he had Pasta. So he looked around, regarded the tree, noticed some new leaves he hadn’t seen previously. He regarded the street, pretty much same as always. He regarded the stop sign, a bit of paint chipped but otherwise same old same old. Lamppost could be on or off, the light wasn’t very strong in the day.
Parmesan thought, oh geez, what harm would it do if I sang, just a little?
So Parmesan took in a deep gulp of air and let out a plaintive
He had to admit, it sounded good.
It reverberated through the air.
It cut through the telephone wire.
A lady mourning dove came swinging round the bend and she exclaimed
Parmesan, oh Parmesan!
And Parmesan sealed his gullet, thinking of Pasta. The lady mourning dove repeated
Parmesan, oh Parmesan!
your song is so beautiful!
And Parmesan didn’t want to be rude so he replied
And the lady dove’s eyes glistened in the lamppost light.
I’m just singing for fun! Parmesan shouted.
That’s okay, I’d love to listen, the lady mourning dove told him.
And so Parmesan resumed his song
And not two minutes later, two more mourning doves swung round the bend, not even hesitating at the stop sign.
Is that Parmesan?
they yelled, in perfect unison.
Yes! the first lady dove interjected.
You have a really unique voice Parmesan, the smaller of the two said.
We’d love to stay and listen, the larger of the two said.
Parmesan, blushing, resumed his song:
He continued singing and more and more mourning doves appeared. By late afternoon the fog had entirely lifted and a whole bevy of mourning doves had gathered around Parmesan’s tree — sitting on branches, squatting on the street, perching on the lamppost. Parmesan kept singing
until night began to fall, and the birds peeled off and returned to their respective homes. Parmesan sat on his twig and said
Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye!
Just as the sun set Pasta swung round the bend, regarding the stop sign before landing on the tree. She dropped a bunch of twigs on a particular part of the tree where several branches connected, and those twigs became the foundation of the nest.
How was your day? she asked
Oh, it was fine! Parmesan told her, unsure if he should reveal that he had kept singing, and that for some reason, all these doves had come to listen.
Mine was fine too, Pasta said, but boy am I tired.
It was Parmesan’s turn to go gather twigs and whatnot so he took off. He tried to concentrate on finding twigs but he kept getting distracted by memories of the day — how much everyone loved his song. how much he loved singing. how much his song moved doves. How beautiful they all said it was. Parmesan swung round the bend just before sunrise with only a few twigs in his beak. He dropped them on what was becoming the nest.
Well I’m off! Pasta said, and she flew away down the street.
Again Parmesan tried to sit quietly. And again he thought, geez, one little song couldn’t hurt anyone. So he started singing.
Mournings doves flew in from far and wide saying
Parmesan, oh Parmesan!
And this kept happening for a few days. Pasta left in the morning, Parmesan started singing, the mourning doves came to listen, the mourning doves left, Pasta returned, the nest got bigger, Parmesan left in the evening.
One day, as Parmesan was singing
to a bevy of adoring fans, he saw in the corner of his eye — Pasta coming round the bend.
It was only three o’clock!
All the other mourning doves took flight.
I thought that song was only for me!
Pasta cried, looking at Parmesan.
My real name’s Tori
Pasta said. She turned at the stop sign and pivoted towards the street. As she dove through the fog and towards the ocean, she could barely hear Parmesan singing
Morning / Mourning
september 29, 2020
When I first heard that my parents had mourning doves outside their window, I heard “morning.” The internet quickly revealed that actually it’s “mourning” doves — it’s about grief, lamenting, wailing, etc. rather than about waking up, stretching, sunrise, leaving, etc.
So the mourning dove apparently got her name from her sound — the plaintive, repetitive coo-ing. Whoever it is that decides bird names thought it sounded like mourning, and so she became the mourning dove.
I’ve listened to a lot of clips of the mourning dove coo-ing, and it doesn't sound particularly mourning-y to me. It sounds like coo-OOOH-ooh-ooh, over and over.
I think mourning sounds quiet. It sounds like saving voicemails and listening to those voicemails, and then realizing your phone has a limit and some of those voicemails are gone. It sounds like walking by the restaurant you went to. It sounds like wordlessly remembering some random thing about some random time. It sounds like not finding words but finding hot cheeks, red face and tears instead. It sounds like listening to a conversation but zoning out because you just thought of this phenomenon you just learned about that you wish you could tell someone. It sounds like lighting a candle and staring at the flame.
In actuality maybe I don’t know that much about what mourning sounds like. I haven’t mourned that many people.
Assuming we’re talking about mourning as something you can only do for dead people that you knew when they were alive. Which, if I really think about it, I don’t think defines mourning (or at least, my mourning). Here is a list of people and things that I have mourned or mourned for:
My goldfish, Nick, who died of being overfed
My other goldfish, Nan, who died of a broken heart
The relationship with my ex
The consequent loss of closeness with several people I previously held close
My uncle Jeff, who died before I was born
My grandpa Max, who died before I was born
My grandma Barbara, who completed suicide before I was born
My great-great-aunt Dina, who ate one meal at the Bus Stop Cafe everyday
My brother’s ascent into adulthood
My own ascent into adulthood
The idea of America
The idea that I don’t need that much sleep
The idea that one can buy a house in Brooklyn and not be a lawyer / doctor
The bonsai tree I got upstate
My grandpa Chickie, the first relative I remember dying
Any conviction that I knew what the “point” of “life” “is”
So it seems that maybe mourning is a state of being rather than an action. “I’m in mourning” rather than “people who are currently lamenting at a funeral.” “I’m in mourning” implies that it’s something you can enter, something you can be inside of or, on the other hand, outside of. A threshold that you can cross or not cross.
Weirdly, this makes “mourning” feel a lot more like “morning” to me. Morning, too, is a sort of threshold — you can be in morning or not in morning (then you’d be in afternoon, or in evening, I suppose). They’re both states that you pass in and out of. The existence of morning as a space you can enter seems dependent on the outside world — you can only enter morning in certain times of day. It has nothing to do with what's inside of you.
Is the existence of mourning as a space you can enter dependent on the outside world, too, or dependent on one’s interiority? My first impulse is that it depends on one’s interiority: did someone just die, is someone sick, did someone just grow up, etc. But all those things feel markedly external, too, at least right now — so many people are dying, so many people are sick, so many people are growing up. Perhaps the distinction between morning and mourning as thresholds is that the ability to enter morning must depend on the outside world, whereas the ability to enter mourning can come from anywhere. Mourning is all around us and also we're full of mourning.
I do find it sort of funny that a bird named for her sound has the name of a homonym. Mourning morning. Morning mourning. Mourning dove. Morning, dove. Mourning dove. Morning dove.