Dance of the Doves
by Donna Coffey
Fat-bellied, stick-legged, we sway awkwardly.
As doves’ wings whoosh and flap-flap-flap,
our flabby arms flutter. We play ballerina, play girlhood.
Our ringed hands reach beyond what summer offered:
scant seeds and thin grass. What can we pull from the air?
Ourselves, like a bird from a tall black hat?
After the dance we sit on the floor, and the teacher asks,
how did it feel? A woman is weeping. She is fifty,
plain and plump. She smears mascara across her cheeks.
I felt not alone, she says, and I am caring for someone
who is dying of alcohol. But from the dance I saw
that he is really dying of loneliness. The women in the circle
nod and blink at the floor. Each of us a mourning dove.
They mate for life. My husband found an empty nest
in our backyard. They build their nest in pairs
and take turns warming eggs and feeding chicks
from a milk they make in their throats. I kept it on my desk.
So intricate, the way she wove what he supplied,
concentric circles of twigs, pine straw, some small flower.
We used to hear his oo-wah-hoo-hoo-hoo and her reply.
Rain doves, they call them in Georgia. I don’t know why.
They hunt them, though, with guns that are bigger than birds.
I’ve never seen the tiny bullets. Can only picture the canny hunter
hidden in the brush, the dogs’ sudden leap to flush the unsuspecting
birds. And does some woman make a feast of doves,
leaving only the feathers and bones?
At a funeral, my husband’s cousin gave me a recipe
for squirrel dumplings. My husband said the only thing
he’d ever killed was a chipmunk; it quivered as it died.
He shot at his brother once, but missed. Over his desk
he’s hung a photo of himself dressed in camouflage,
playing paintball. Now he only plays at death.
How unlikely a vision: me in a matronly apron,
cooking squirrels or doves. My husband sitting expectantly
at a formica table. I ask if he has enough sweet tea.
He pats me on the behind. And I serve him
a steaming platter of tiny bones like a pile of fingers.
The dove is the Holy Spirit, our teacher reveals. The woman that she
always was, Sophia, Wisdom, hidden goddess. Her breath in us.
I don’t think so. The whole time that my hands were in the air,
my foot was caught. I could turn with one leg only. For all my flutter
I did not ascend. The dove is the bird who marries. Who mourns
not because she doesn’t love him, but because she does.
Donna Coffey is an Associate Professor of English at Reinhardt University in Georgia. She completed a Ph.D. in English at the University of Virginia in 1996, and just completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the Solstice Low Residency Program at Pine Manor College. She has a number of scholarly publications but has just begun submitting poetry. A piece called “Saint Margaret” is forthcoming in Calyx.