Mourning doves, Lorine Niedecker: sources of The Mornith War

The Mornith War is full of things that got my attention at the time I was writing. Events in my neighborhood, my world … books I was reading … my nightly dreams and nightmares … whatever parts of my experience overlapped with the story I was telling. Here begins a series of short posts about these sources, each revealing something from outside the story that found its way in.

A common bird around my house (I can see one perching on the peak of a neighbor’s roof as I write this), mourning doves have a small but important part in The Mornith War. I grew up hearing and loving their call, and (no surprise) the chapter 3 description of Elwood’s boyhood experience with mourning doves is a lot like my own. (Here are some sound samples.) But the call has special significance for Elwood, the bird’s voice—sounding like the question, Who?—reminding him of his divided self, his lost other. 

Writing that chapter 3 passage about Elwood’s past, and my hearing of the mourning dove’s call in particular, I remembered a short Lorine Niedecker poem. Looking it up again I found that she wrote, “the You/ah you/of mourning doves” (Lorine Niedecker, Collected Works, pg 181, University of California Press, 2002). The poem too hears the bird’s call as though it were English, and in it a lost someone is also mourned. 

I read this as a sign I was on the right path, with the birdcall at least, and carried the mourning dove clear to the book’s final page.

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