the barbary dove pays me a visit

by Autumn Bellan


my vision has always been shifty,

       shadow-shackled. when I was little, 

              my closet’s panels, bright by night light

                     and white, would become wavy,

              black. the dark 

       spots would shape 

themselves into wings,

              an angel’s, a devil’s. a spirit

                     afoot, I would envision an invisible body 

                            beside my bed, pretend I felt presence there too. 

                     when I told my mom, 

              she believed me. 

                     said sometimes spirits get stuck, 

              but not quite gone. she closed her eyes, pretended ascendence,

                                                 and told me the spirit was a young boy

                                          who died in a car accident. who wanted 

              to protect me. he scared me; I couldn’t bring 

       myself to thank him. years later, 

the doctor told me the shadows 

              are schemes of sight. dry-eyed deception, 

                     a trick that feathers at night. it was dark outside

                            when I looked past the glass of the sliding door, 

                     and saw something 

              white. hot-flash 

                     like a matchbox flame—six black hole eyes bore into me. 

                            three barbary doves on the balcony

              on the edge of real, more and less all at once. 

       I knew they would poop on the deck, but I didn’t want to shoo 

them away. their presence felt sticky, 

       not quite right but meant to be

              in the way that sometimes bad things happen 

                     when nature is disturbed. sometimes, I read, 

                                          barbary doves are released as peace 

              symbols in public ceremonies, but not always,

       because they lack a homing 

instinct. my mom’s peace 

       offering has always been spirit, 

              something to bring us all home. sometimes, I read, 

                     barbary doves carry mutations that make them all white, 

                                                                             and they are used

                            as stage birds, slave to spirit

              wings made fake-celestial like the dead boy  

       who went thankless above my bed as if he 

were a magician’s hand suspending me in sightless sleep.


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