by Rodrigo Alonzo
A few weeks ago I was sitting on my porch in Kensington enjoying a quiet morning. This was in the beginning of the quarantine so there was the occasional passing car but mostly everything was still. Suddenly a call sounded; not too loud, but distinct. It was a voice I’ve known my whole life and yet I really didn’t know anything about it. It was a birdsong. The only one that has made an impact on me. I hadn’t remembered ever hearing it in Brooklyn before. And now that we were forced to seclude ourselves in our homes, there it was.
This particular birdsong is one of my earliest memories. Other formative sensations are freshly-mown grass, the carpet in my parent’s first apartment, a mobile that hung above my crib, but this sound… It’s the same every time: a low note, then up high, then down a bit and that note is repeated three times…like this: low-high-mid-mid-mid. And the mid trails down each time it’s sounded. The quality of the call is like a low recorder, as if it were being played in an early music ensemble. It sounds like it’s being blown through a medieval woodwind of some kind, a husky, low salutation.
First time I heard the song I was a toddler, living in St. Joseph, Michigan. Our house was one of about twelve in a newly-constructed subdivision surrounded by open fields, forests and a small creek. From the time I was very little, we would go for an evening walk around the neighborhood. Often it was dusk. The sun was a deep red with a fiery fading orange just above, all dipping under the black horizon. And that birdsong would always call out. The song and the sun setting behind the darkened trees were fused together in my mind. That’s why hearing that same call on my porch in Brooklyn was such a jolt. How could that voice have traveled forty-seven years and several states to find me here in Brooklyn?
In addition to the visual image of the sunset, the birdsong evokes a kind of Greek chorus for me. “I’m still here,” it tells me. “Remember your childhood?” it asks. “Who do you think you are?” Hearing this simple voice is my personal Rosebud or madeleine. It’s some kind of ghost that is simultaneously comforting and haunting.
Because I now have much more free time than usual, I decided to find out who it was that was making this sound. After a short investigation of “bird calls” on YouTube, I came across the exact one. It was the mourning dove. All this time I had no idea and here it was. When I looked at its photo, it didn’t match the shadowy image I’d been carrying in my head for so long. I learned that mourning doves are plentiful in New York (as well as Michigan). They love open fields, hunting for seeds, and they migrate to Mexico in the winter.
Another memory that came hurtling back was Robert Frost’s poem, “Come In” which I had read as a senior in high school. The vidid directness of his language made a big impression on me then. I didn’t know you could write a poem about a bird inviting you into the forest. Here I was, in the middle of Brooklyn, feeling the same dilemma. I remembered my teacher saying, “The bird’s not calling out to the narrator. Nature is indifferent.” But the voice of the mourning dove is so specific. It always forces me to face myself and take stock of what I’ve become. It always finds me. Even in Brooklyn.