A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2005, vol 1 no 3

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Margarita Engle



One evening during the season of weddings and graduations, she appears in our back yard between one neighbor's pecan grove and another's eucalyptus woodlot. She flies around my husband's head while he drives a tractor, mowing weeds. Her delicate white body, fragile wings, and the distinct black circle around her neck are startling enough to make him stop the tractor. The dove lands at his feet. She seems to be delivering a message, or asking for a home.

magician's dove
circling my husband's
straw hat

We feed her birdseed and watermelon. She is not afraid of our dogs. Her gentle call is a mystery. No wonder her species has been a favorite cagebird since ancient times. She is the turtledove of The Song of Solomon and The Twelve Nights of Christmas, an Old World native so thoroughly domesticated that she retains no homing instinct at all, and no natural fear of predators. She cannot find wild foods, or survive outdoors. She requires a home, tender care, love.

laughing dove
no way to translate
the sound of wings

We decide that she must have gotten lost after a wedding or graduation ceremony. It must be a case of mistaken identity, one helpless turtledove released along with dozens of larger, more self-sufficient homing pigeons. She could be male, but I choose to think of her as female, perhaps because in Spanish her name is paloma, a feminine word, making all doves female, at least in name. I become fascinated by her names. Dove means diver. This species is called the magician's dove, laughing dove, or ringnecked turtledove. The latter is a Latin echoic of her soft chuckle, tur-tur, not a reference to hard-shelled reptiles. She is also known as the peace dove, the one Noah sent flying from the ark.

She needs a home. We try luring her into a butterfly net. Suddenly she is playful. She rises away from us, then lands in a neighbor's orange tree. The last time we see her she is fluttering on a branch, gazing down at a Father's Day barbecue. She seems to be enjoying the mariachi music, the fragrance of spicy cooking, the festive crowd.

A family gathering strikes me as the perfect place for her to linger safely. The neighbors have not yet looked up at the tree above their picnic table. For now, the visiting peace dove remains unnoticed, as if invisible. Yet somehow, she seems to feel welcome. Perhaps she is home.

peace dove
perched on a branch



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