This poem was written outside the fishbowl sessions. It was inspired by a comment from siliconshaman under the poem "Winged Destiny" by kestrels_nest. It has been sponsored by Shirley Barrette. You can read the rest of the Fledgling Grace poems by visiting the Serial Poetry page.
WARNING: This poem delves into some serious moral issues and controversial topics. If you are touchy about the reputation of the Church and its scandals, this may ruffle your feathers.
The first case cropped up in Germany
when a man in Hamburg
fledged with the wings of a barbastelle.
Then came word of a woman in Munich
with the same leathery appendages.
Before long, reports appeared
from other countries as well, but
the locals were already saying fledermäuse
and the name stuck.
They groused about goths
and vampires and kids these days.
It took a little longer for people to realize
that the taut skin wings were
only almost like the wings of bats.
The patagium was stronger, harder to injure,
while thumb and fingers ended in sharp talons.
Even in the species whose tail
ordinarily ended within the uropatagium,
there was a little arrowhead shape at the tip.
"These are the wings of devils,"
the priests observed then.
People muttered and whispered about
those who fledged without feathers,
stretching dark skin between their fingerbones.
The fledermäuse were rare.
There were plenty of awful people
who fledged with the wings of birds,
but then there were a few famous murderers
who delighted in their skinwings,
even in jail where there was no room to spread them.
Word got around
that the fledermäuse were evil,
that bat wings were like the mark of Cain.
There was no proof --
there were some with no criminal record --
but the pattern could not be denied:
more of them appeared in jails than free.
It caused a tremendous scandal
when fledermäuse began to appear
within the ranks of the church,
alongside the doves and sparrows and cardinals.
"We told you so," the choir boys grumbled,
"but you wouldn't listen."
Old cases were opened,
accusations and evidence examined anew,
and in some instances there were fresh convictions.
The courts insisted on due process,
not wanting to introduce religion in place of proof.
Perhaps some of the bat-winged people
had never actually committed crimes
but only sinned in their hearts,
turning inwardly toward nefarious forces.
"Let God sort it out," the police said
of those who could not be convicted.
Worst of all was when
the Pope developed the wings
of a Mediterranean horseshoe bat,
the fawn-red dorsal side brightened to crimson
and the tawny-yellow ventral side a vivid brimstone.
People had been praying for red,
but the red of a cardinal and not this,
never this crimson accusation.
"The Pope is infallible," some said, but,
"The fledermäuse are evil," others said,
"But the Pope must be infallible,"
"But the bat wings indicate evil."
So it went until people
wound themselves into riots
and the Pope came out to tell them all
to stop fighting and go home.
But they went muttering.
They talked about the Pope's decisions
and whether those had been kind or cruel,
and to whom, and why. Perhaps he had not
been as loving as people had believed, and
perhaps God had wanted to say something about it.
There was of course no proof
of any wrongdoing,
no quivering hint of crime.
The Pope's record was as spotless
as the pure white cloth of his own robe.
But the wings cast their silent shadow all the same.
* * *
Fledermäuse is a German word for "bats," literally "flittermice."
Read about bat wings and tails, how bats work, the barbastelle and Mediterranean horseshoe bat.