This poem was written outside the fishbowl sessions. It was inspired by a comment from rhodielady_47 under my poem "The Wingdresser's Kitchen." It has been sponsored by Shirley Barrette. You can find the other Fledgling Grace poems via the Serial Poetry page.
The first humans to Fledge
bore the wings of doves or sparrows,
then other common birds, then those less common,
the rare and the colorful and the unbelievable
but all of them,
even the famous poi bird
with his patchwork plumage
had only two wings
and the tail between them.
A year and a day
after the Fledging,
the first cherub emerged.
His upper wings rose from his shoulders,
the black-tipped pink of an American flamingo
from the Seminole tribe down in Florida.
His lower wings sprouted from his hips,
the rich maroon of a greater bird-of-paradise
from the Asmat people of Papua New Guinea.
His tail, too, was a bird-of-paradise tail:
long silky flumes of gold turning to white,
streaked with maroon, and two curling wires.
There were anthropologists
in his family. It showed.
He documented everything
even while learning what it was like
to be stared at.
Cherubim were said to be
guardians of holy places,
messengers of God,
storm-bringers and storm-tamers.
He was nobody special,
aside from his colorful ancestry,
and yet. And yet.
There he was with four wings
as splendid as had been seen.
Surely it must mean something.
So he did what any anthropologist would do:
he observed, he explored, he learned.
There was a discerning grace about him
and he discovered that he could perceive
somewhat the nature of human souls.
None of his hypotheses fit what he perceived
and he could frame no description of any of it.
So that night he burned his notes, consigned theory to fire,
followed his own light, and hopped on a bus tour
that some nuns were making for charity.
They were determined to serve the poor.
The Pope didn't like it very much
and had commanded them to quit.
The nuns were more interested
in the commands of Jesus Christ,
so they kept right on going.
Perhaps it was coincidence.
Perhaps it was fate.
Perhaps it was not.
The first seraph manifested
as one of those nuns on the bus.
She had been a nun for years,
dressed in stern black and white.
She was neither in black nor white now.
Her upper wings were scarcely larger
than the scarlet macaw who bequeathed
their bold red-yellow-blue bands to
the Guaraní people of Brazil and Bolivia,
just large enough to cover her face.
Her middle wings, the flight wings,
were those of a Chinese golden pheasant,
jeweled coverts of scarlet and azure
burning down to dark primaries.
Her tail was likewise that of a pheasant:
long black plumes speckled with buff,
the shorter ones tipped with crimson
and all emerging from under a golden ruff.
Her lower wings, one on each ankle,
were about twice the size of those
seen on a painted bunting of the Osage plains,
the feathers a riot of yellow and red,
purple and green and blue.
Missionaries, it seemed,
got around as much as anthropologists,
and did not always follow
quite all of their own guidelines.
None of her habits would fit
and she needed new clothes.
A Hindu widow offered a spare sari,
twelve yards of silk in scarlet and gold.
It would have looked ostentatious
had it not been utterly upstaged
by the feathers themselves,
and at least it fit around the wings.
Seraphim were said
to be the burning ones
who flew around the throne of God
singing the trisagion:
"Holy, holy, holy."
When she walked,
sometimes she had trouble
keeping her feet on the ground.
Even in full daylight
a faint gleam of grace surrounded her
and in darkness she shone with electrum light.
When she sang, a fiery aura
leaped up like a bonfire
and no one could look at it,
not even the cherub.
The other nuns
and followed her everywhere,
as Ruth clung to Naomi.
The poor people came,
and the rich people also came,
and when the seraph held out her hands,
the rich gave what they had to the poor
and left still richer, the poor less poor.
By the end of the year
there were, thus far,
only eight cherubim
and two seraphim,
scattered around the world.
All of them were
people of mixed heritage
bearing plumage of two or three birds,
and none of them had the same combination.
Perhaps that was coincidence.
Perhaps that was fate.
Perhaps it was not.
* * *
Read about cherubim and seraphim. Cherubim have been described with four or six wings; I went with four wings to give contrast. Seraphim are typically described with six wings.
Browse the colorful birds: American flamingo, golden pheasant, greater bird of paradise, painted bunting, and scarlet macaw.
Browse the cultures: Asmat, Guarani, Osage, and Seminole.
Read about the Nuns on the Bus.
Here's an example of a red and gold sari.
Read about Ruth and Naomi.