Pigeon at the Temple of Rats

in response to a photo by Pete McGregor

Walls rattle like a threshing machine,
the floor heaves — no place to land
among the tight-packed
mass of mendicants.
A pigeon watches the feeding
from the safety of a roof, first
with one orange eye
& then the other:
these are thieves & nest predators.
Their outlandish beaks are studded
with egg teeth, but unlike chicks
they show no sign they’ll ever
grow feathers. To them, perhaps,
the earth is still all egg.
What makes them holy?
They drop onto their clawed
forelimbs & crawl, brown
fur against the dirt, as if
it never occurred to them to fly.

For the Read Write Poem prompt, “(not) following the rules.” Other responses are here.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

12 Comments


  1. I love the notion of the alien eye looking down and interpreting a familiar dimension. It’s a curious little sub-genre, normally the province of sci-fi, although Timberlake Wertenbaker manages it tellingly through the aboriginal Australian’s observations of the landings of the first Europeans in her play ‘Our Country’s Good’. Difficult to pull off. This poem does to great effect.

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  2. Dave, thanks. I’m honoured — I can’t think of a more generous compliment for the photo than this marvellous poem.

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  3. Pete – I’m glad you liked it. I hope people click through and spend some time at your photo blog. I’ve really been enjoying it.

    Dick – Thanks. Sounds like an interesting play. I’ve had a lot of practice writing poems from alien points of view, but what was different with this one is that for some reason the first-person voice didn’t work as well as keeping it in the third person, I found.

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  4. … unlike chicks
    they show no sign they’ll ever
    grow feathers.

    One of the perennial questions debated in philosophy over the past 35 years has been What is it like to be a bat? (from the title of a paper by Thomas Nagel). You can even get it on a T-shirt.

    This poem is a nicely done What is it like to be a pigeon?. I think it is very cool.

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  5. Hi Philip – Thanks for stopping by, and for reminding me about that paper. Pretty cool that you can get that on a t-shirt!

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  6. What I love about this is that it captures a non-human perspective. Not the man as the observer, the subject but the pigeon…

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  7. Thanks for the comments. I didn’t know how well known this temple might be – i hadn’t heard of it until Pete wrote about it in his main blog last year. I do like trying to put humanity in its place sometimes – though paradoxically this kind of exercise, to the extent that it succeeds, also serves to remind us of the unique power of the human imagination.

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  8. Good imagery, and an interesting look at the world through the pigeon’s orange eyes, and nut-sized brain. Just a rat with wings – really. A little less destructive. And I think rats are holy because they are Ganesh’s vehicle.

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  9. wow, i hadn’t thought about Nagel since grad school! Nagel via pigeons! and Ganesh too! traveled the world round through a pigeons orange eye and time traveled too

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  10. It took me a few moments to figure out how it fit the RWP prompt!

    Anyway, with this poem you join the ranks of poets whose work I love. And not just because I appreciate egg imagery to an irrational degree.

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  11. Thanks, and welcome to Via Negativa. I hope future poems don’t disappoint.

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