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Poem: "The Wingdresser's Kitchen" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Wingdresser's Kitchen"
This is the freebie for the September Crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] jjhunter about how, if everyone had wings, there would be professional care for that. This reminded me of how political ethnic hair is, and the severe discrimination against African hair braiding services that still happens in some places. So I figured, if everyone turned up with feathers, the same kind of fracas would ensue ...

EDIT: There is now a lovely sketch of the kitchen scene.


The Wingdresser's Kitchen


Sheba tucked her wings close
to duck down the dark alley.
It was this way to the wingdresser's,
slip in the back to the kitchen
and make sure nobody saw you.

That's on account of there were laws,
mostly aimed at keeping white folks happy,
so you couldn't legally work as a wingdresser, unless
you paid thousands of dollars for a cosmetology license,
which didn't anybody have in this 'hood
and the schooling was all aimed at white girls
with their pale pigeon-wings and dove-tails.

Cosmetology had got a lot stranger since the Fledging,
but it hadn't got any cheaper or the people any nicer.

So if you had the black-and-green wings of a Jardine's parrot
with orange sunspots blazing on the shoulders
because your ancestors were Ashanti who came from Ghana,
then you couldn't use cosmetics meant for pigeons,
and that sent you right to the wingdresser's back door.

Sheba closed the screen door carefully behind her
so it wouldn't bang and maybe attract attention.
The kitchen was crowded and full of conversation,
mostly other Ashanti descendants like Sheba herself
but there by the fridge was an Ethiopian woman
with the gray-green wings of a red-bellied parrot,
undersides showing peach when she fluttered.

The wingdresser was gentle and thorough, her brown hands
cleaning all the places that Sheba couldn't reach,
fluffing the plumage with a wide-toothed preening comb.
Then she polished the orange feathers with palm oil
and the green feathers with hemp oil -- which was illegal,
but then so was the whole business.

They talked through all of this, because that was
how people stayed connected in the 'hood,
so Sheba heard all about Queenie's new baby
and Mara's boyfriend proposing at the club.
She told about her new job waiting tables.

Then the talk rolled around to cosmetology
and how the NAACP had filed a lawsuit
for fraud, because the schools claimed to teach
how to take care of wings but only covered one kind,
and nobody should have to pay for lessons
that didn't have a thing to do with their job.

The kitchen was a bit too warm, but Sheba didn't care.
Her wings were clean and glossy again,
the primary quills dotted with gold paint.
There was chili cooking in a crockpot on the counter
and someone had brought cornbread to go with it
and someone else unwrapped a coconut cream pie.

The women crowded around the kitchen table to eat,
their colorful wings touching like a choir of angels,
and Sheba thought that maybe, even if
the NAACP won their case, it was better this way
and who needs a fancy wingdressing shop uptown anyhow.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Current Mood: busy busy

12 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
catsittingstill From: catsittingstill Date: September 17th, 2012 01:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I love it!

I wish I could have dots of gold paint on *my* primaries!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 17th, 2012 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I love it! <<

I'm happy to hear that.

>> I wish I could have dots of gold paint on *my* primaries! <<

Yeah, I'd do it too. If I'm wearing nail polish, it's most often silver or gold.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: October 24th, 2012 03:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I do love this. It took my imagination by the scruff of its neck and shook it. This may be a bit long for a comment, but this is what came out of it.

Winged Destiny

All the models
And the people of good breeding
And impeccably researched ancestry
Got pale pigeon wings in the Fledging,
And so those became the standard of beauty,
Appearing on the covers of magazines,
Carefully highlighted
In the pale pink
Of a French manicure.

They went well
With pale porcelain skin
And blue eyes,
But not everyone's ancestors
Came from England
Or France or the Low Countries.

Ashanti women from Ghana fledged
With wings of red and green,
As vivid as the colors of the fabrics their ancestors had worn,
And the Maya grew wings with Yucatan-brilliant plumage
That set off their brown skin and black eyes beautifully.

But however odd - and wings were very odd to humans -
The colors were still dictated by their genes,
The hidden heritage
Of parents and grandparents and their parents,
Mothers to sons and fathers to daughters,
Ancestry made manifest in feathers.
Which made sense, when you thought about it,
But created some surprises too
Greater even than the growth of wings.

The descendants of the warrior-bards of Eire
Turned out to have the blue-black wings
Of the Morrigan's ravens,
Which suited them perfectly
But looked wildly out of place
On a descendent of English earls,
And the wide grey gull-wings
Of Vikings and Saxons
Raised a few eyebrows
In a village in the Syrian Desert,
Where clearly,
Some far-wandering crusaders
Had left more than their fortresses and bones.

But it was worst
(Or perhaps best)
When the bright jungle wings
Of Africa
Appeared on the lily-white descendents
Of New Orleans debutantes
Or the scarlet epaulettes
That adorn the wings
Of the blackbirds
In American marshes,
And more recently the descendants
Of Tecumseh’s people,
Showed up among city-folk
Whose family stories
Included the cowboys
But never the Indians.

That was the problem.
What had been hidden
Beneath the skin
And in the common red
Of human blood
Was hidden no longer,
And you looked pretty foolish
When you'd spent your life
Talking about how "those people"
Should just get over
What your ancestors
Did to theirs
When your plumage carried the colors
Of homelands
A long way from Europe.

So blue jay-wings
Jostled against
Garden sparrow and starling,
And robin and red-tailed hawk
Passed Eurasian eagle owl
And pale brown Egyptian goose
On the street,
And really it was only the models
Who never did look like real people
And the noble scions
Of France and England
And the Low Countries
Who had the pale, perfect
Wings of pigeons.


From: rhodielady_47 Date: October 24th, 2012 09:36 am (UTC) (Link)
You need to think of a way to add something about the genetic heritage the Mongols left behind in Europe.
It seems there's been at least one camp found in France where wounded Mongol soldiers remained behind when the rest withdrew from Europe. They occasionally find white babies in this region which have the Mongol's dark sacral triangle on their bottoms so apparently they did leave children behind.

I enjoyed reading your poem!
I've told people tidbits of this stuff for years and most don't believe me!
:D
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 28th, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Poem

From this I got the free-verse poem "Dark Triangles," about the descendants of various invaders in France.

65 lines, Buy It Now = $32.50
From: rhodielady_47 Date: October 24th, 2012 09:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Good reading! I enjoyed this!

Mmmmmm....
So what happens when you've got a "duke's mix" of ancestories?
Do your wings wind up a mix as well?

[If I were a person in this world, this would be what would happen to me since I've got French, German/Swiss, English/Scottish and who knows what else in my family tree. Still haven't managed to figure out if there's any American Indian in me yet but there are family rumors.]

I wonder how the Neandertal genes would show up in the wings?
:)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 29th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Good reading! I enjoyed this!

From this I got the free-verse poem "The Poi Bird," about a Hawai'ian man with chimaerical feathers.

30 lines, Buy It Now = $15

From: rhodielady_47 Date: October 29th, 2012 09:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Good reading! I enjoyed this!

"The Poi Bird" came out well too.
That is sure one beautiful set of wings.
:)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 30th, 2012 07:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Good reading! I enjoyed this!

Thank you! I'm glad you like it. *chuckle* Though I suspect that combination of colors is something that only God could make match, like putting orange and green together in a sunset. Well, God and a rare few gifted artists.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 20th, 2014 07:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> Oh my god, this is gorgeous. <<

Yay! I'm glad you liked it.

>> People-with-wings is pretty much my favorite fantasy topic, and you've written such a beautiful and evocative scene with this. <<

This was the first poem written in what has become a pretty popular series, Fledgling Grace, so there is a LOT more available for you to enjoy. It touches on many different cultures and religions, and bird species from around the world.

You might also like A Conflagration of Dragons, in which several of the races have wings of various types.

>> I totally want to illustrate this scene at some point. It is just lovely. <<

I love fanart. If you decide to illustrate something of mine, you can tell me and I'll link to it from the series page so that folks can see it. If you look around my main Serial Poetry page and the subpages, you'll see some other places where people have illustrated things.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 20th, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>> Yes, I've been browsing some of the other poems. They're all wonderful. <<

Thank you.

>> I will definitely link the image to you if/when I get a chance to draw it. <<

Yay! That would be awesome.

>> Usually I am quite busy with commissioned pieces, and I have a lot of personal projects that are also on my list, but it's such a wonderful image I will definitely try to paint it at some point. <<

Do you have an archive of your artwork online anywhere?
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 21st, 2014 01:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Awesome! I just crawled through your Tumblr feed and the game page, and posted this stuff for my readers to enjoy.

Having seen what you can do with colorful birds, I am now all the more excited.

Feel free to drop back by my blog in May when Weirspace launches. I have gamers in my audience who might be interested, if you let me know when it's open.
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