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Monday, February 05, 2024


by Matthew King

A pigeon that was captured eight months back near a port after being suspected to be a Chinese spy, is released at a vet hospital in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Jan.30, 2024. Police had found two rings tied to its legs, carrying words that looked like Chinese. Police suspected it was involved in espionage and took it in. Eventually, it turned out the pigeon was an open-water racing bird from Taiwan that had escaped and made its way to India. With police permission, the bird was transferred to the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose doctors set it free on Tuesday. (Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via AP via ABC News, February 1, 2024) 

It’s said, when Noah’s ark had run aground
but water stretched far as the human eye
could see, he sent a dove out as a spy.
Her first sortie betrayed for miles around
no evidence of anything undrowned,
but with another week for things to dry,
and Earth to soak in hues of sun and sky,
she brought a sprig of leafy green she found.
The world may end, depending on a word.
We all know, if not why, a dove is meant
to signal peace, so let’s rename the bird
and think, if we would like, it might be sent
to fight for land or money or religion:
that’s no dove, it’s just a dirty pigeon.

Author's note: A Taiwanese racing pigeon, which had been detained in India for eight months on suspicion of being a Chinese spy, was released last week. (In 2020 Indian authorities arrested a suspected Pakistani spy pigeon.) "Pigeon" is another name for domesticated rock doves, and the idea of a spying dove, for me, recalls the bird Noah sent from the ark to see if there was anything alive in the world. The image of the dove returning with an olive branch is of course a widely recognized peace symbol, used for instance in the logo of the annual UN-sponsored International Day of Peace. In light of so much going on in the world, including struggles over naming things and what follows from our naming of them, it is darkly fitting that a dove by another name would be mistaken for a hostile agent.

Matthew King used to teach philosophy at York University in Toronto, Canada; he now lives in what Al Purdy called "the country north of Belleville", where he tries to grow things, counts birds, takes pictures of flowers with bugs on them, and walks a rope bridge between the neighbouring mountaintops of philosophy and poetry.