Two Pigeons

By Mary Jo Salter b. 1954
They’ve perched for hours
on that window-ledge, scarcely   
moving. Beak to beak,

a matched set, they differ   
almost imperceptibly—
like salt and pepper shakers.

It’s an event when they tuck   
(simultaneously) their pinpoint   
heads into lavender vests

of fat. But reminiscent   
of clock hands blandly   
turning because they must

have turned—somehow, they’ve   
taken on the grave,   
small-eyed aspect of monks

hooded in conferences
so intimate nothing need
be said. If some are chuckling

in the park, earning
their bread, these are content   
to let the dark engulf them—

it’s all the human   
imagination can fathom,   
how single-mindedly

mindless two silhouettes   
stand in a window thick   
as milk glass. They appear

never to have fed on   
anything else when they stir   
all of a sudden to peck

savagely, for love
or hygiene, at the grimy   
feathers of the other;

but when they resume   
their places, the shift   
is one only a painter

or a barber (prodding a chin   
back into position)   
would be likely to notice.

Mary Jo Salter, “Two Pigeons” from Henry Purcell in Japan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Mary Jo Salter. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Henry Purcell in Japan (1984)

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Poet Mary Jo Salter b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Nature, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Mary Jo Salter


Poet, editor, essayist, playwright, and lyricist Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She grew up in Michigan and Maryland, and earned degrees from Harvard and Cambridge University. A former editor at the Atlantic Monthly, poetry editor at the New Republic, and co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry Salter’s thorough understanding of poetic tradition is clearly evident in her . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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