An autumn rain delivers New York City from the dust. It is one of those afternoon showers, one of those little irritations that keep the airplanes from landing and the delivery-boys from quitting their smoking habits. I am on the roof of a Manhattan multi-story still smelling of last night’s party.
I follow the falling rain to the city below me. A maze. Businessmen with their big briefcases rub shoulders with gypsies and poets.
A pigeon flies past a man in a trench coat with a swiftness that I can only describe as a wicked hurry. It finds a spot on a bright red chair be-speckled by the rain. The man in the trench coat pauses to watch the pigeon that stole his seat. It is indifferent to him. A steam rises from a pushcart by the sidewalk. A hot-dog vendor offers the man a beef frank and a dry seat. The pigeon hops off the bright red chair and perches itself atop a woman’s umbrella.
The gargoyles keep the city’s secrets. I spy one perched on the corner of the building beside me. Manhattan loves its gargoyles. And I imagine the gargoyles love their Manhattan too. They are cold and lonely through the day, but come nightfall, their lovers return. Perched on the corner of their favorite buildings, they watch the city fall asleep far below them. And they fall asleep too, in each other’s arms. Manhattan loves its superheroes.
Suddenly I feel the desire to give this pigeon that I am following, a name. I’ve never given anything a name before– growing up, none of my toys had names. I’ve never had a pet either. A name carries too many associations and I’ve always been afraid of them. A name also connotes ownership, and I do not believe in ownership.
There was this cartoon, from my childhood. It was about a pigeon named Yankee Doodle. It wasn’t a great name for a pigeon, now that I think about it. But I don’t have any names in my head either, so it will have to do. Yankee Doodle is no ordinary pigeon. Yankee Doodle is a poet. Yankee Doodle brings the city closer with his curiosity and Yankee Doodle’s flightplan is a poem. No poet could put two things together the way Yankee Doodle does with his short flights and his long leaps. The city is full of stray objects that belong together. Yankee Doodle is a matchmaker for the non-living, and I have a balcony seat to his first wedding.
A dime-store catches his fancy. He is perched on the ledge by the storefront. He looks inside through the window. On a velvet cloth lies a few choice items. Carved stones from Africa, an ornament box which I would like to imagine is filled with postcards, and the most curious item on the shelf– a birdcage. It is a golden birdcage– exactly like the one you would imagine in your head when you hear the word ‘birdcage’– and a lone feather of a scarlet macaw rests inside it, longing for company. Yankee Doodle takes a step back to watch the reflection that just appeared in the store’s window. It is the man in the trench coat, complete in a hat.
Yankee Doodle now sits on a stone step, one of many that leads up to a magnificent library. A woman drags her reluctant child up those steps. The child holds her ice-cream dear and her mouth delights in the mess around it. She frees her arm from her mother’s hands and runs towards Yankee Doodle trying to scare him. Yankee Doodle flutters away and takes all his friends with him. And like that, he was gone– his poem gone with him. The child and her mother walk into the library.
In the heart of the building is my life’s work– a photograph of someone special, placed carefully atop a ticking bomb.