Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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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: creative jam, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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