kestrels_nest wrote this lovely poem, inspired by my earlier piece "The Wingdresser's Kitchen." I'm posting it here so more folks can see it. I love it when my poetry inspires other people! This is very much the sort of thing I was thinking with regards to people of mixed heritage in this setting -- they could have wings like any of their ancestors, much like hair or skin color, though there is a spiritual as well as a physical component to these wings. Poetry and fantasy allow us to explore issues of history and identity in new ways.
I'll include the introduction too: "The Wingdresser's Kitchen" grabbed my imagination and shook it. If the African women had wings reflecting their ancestry, what about people who had ancestry they'd prefer to deny? I imagined some quintessentially WASP descendent of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings finding themselves with brilliant African plumage, or the proud descendent of generations of Chassidic rabbis with the wings of Ural owls bequeathed by a passing Cossack.
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,
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 descendents 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,
Some far-wandering crusaders
Had left more than their fortresses and bones.
But it was worst
(Or perhaps best)
When the bright jungle wings
Appeared among 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 descendents
Of Tecumsah'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
A long way from Europe.
So blue jay-wings
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.