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Poem: "Devil's Advocate" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Devil's Advocate"

This poem was inspired by comments from paka about alienation and rhodielady_47 about leather wings., along with the song "Take These Wings" by catsittingstill.  It is posted here as a birthday gift for catsittingstill.  This poem belongs to the Fledgling Grace series, which you can explore further via the Serial Poetry page.  It will make more sense if you have previously read "Moulting," "The Fledging," and "Fledermäuse."

Devil's Advocate

The busker did not know
what had brought her to this,
not really.  Oh, she had ideas --
a singer was always full of ideas.

She'd seen so much of the world,
wandering its dingy streets,
seen the sordid underbelly of the city
and refused to stay silent about it.
Maybe she'd raked a little too much muck
and it had gotten stuck to her.

One way or the other, there she was,
watching people pass her by
with wings of pigeons or sparrows,
ravens or parrots.

There she was, not with feathers,
but with the wings of a little brown bat.

They were the color of dark chocolate,
almost black, the vanes soft as velveteen
and reaching down to cover her tail.
The stubby thumbs stuck up from the tips
with their tiny claws -- she had seen
fledermäuse  with fierce talons
but hers were not that impressive.

It made no difference.
Most people avoided her now,
flocking to the handsome young man
on the far corner with his pure white dove wings,
or the nightingale who sang under streetlights in the park.
Word said there was a merlin downtown,
a storyteller, but she had never heard him personally.

She was always isolated, even in a crowd.
It was always someone other than her
who had what people wanted,
who won their fleeting smiles --
someone nicer, someone prettier,
skinnier, paler, more pleasing,

She had always been unwanted, unwelcome,
but this made it worse -- people had
whole new stereotypes to stand on
so they could look down on each other.

The world made her angry,
so she sang angry songs,
pecking out the notes with her guitar pick
and belting lyrics about bad drivers,
disbelievers, uppity women, engineers,
the eternal fight for rights in which
only the target ever changes.

The goths and the heavy metal fans
all loved her leather wings
and the way she spoke out for those
who had no one to stick up for them.
It made them tip better, sometimes.
She wasn't too proud to take advantage of that.

The busker tried to show solidarity
with her fellow fledermäuse 
but most of them were mean as alley cats
and just as solitary.

So she hung out with whores and junkies
because some of them were lonely,
particularly the goldfinch girl
whose black-and-white wings
were capped with jaunty yellow.

Drizzly days were the worst,
when it wasn't raining hard enough
to justify giving up, but the pedestrians
all huddled into their cloaks and hurried
to get off the streets as soon as they could,
when the sun would come out just to tease  her
with a hint of heat and light before
the rain closed in again.

She sang herself hoarse, those days,
trying to be heard above the splash of traffic in rain
and the chilly wind that gripped her neck
with its wet fingers no matter how
she wrapped herself in her damp suede wings.

Then one day as she was tucking her guitar
into its case during a rainy spell,
a shadow fell over her and
the shower of water abruptly cut off.

The busker looked up to see two people
she recognized but would never have expected
to stop for more than the moment required
to drop a coin into her guitar case --
a priest and an angel who worked
at a church some blocks away,
spreading their wings above her
like feathery umbrellas.

"Care to come with us
for a warm bed and a hot meal?"
the priest invited.

The busker glared at them.
It was a tempting offer,
but she had learned the hard way
that people who offered handouts to fledermäuse 
had something in mind other than helping out.

"I don't want your charity," she snapped.
"If you leave a tip, you can make a song request,
and that's all."

"It's not a kind day for a hardworking guitar,"
the priest observed, and that was true,
but totally irrelevant.

"It's not a kind day to go hungry either,"
the busker said, "and some of us
have to work  for a living,
not have everything handed to us.
Not that either of you would understand that."

"You might be surprised,"
the priest murmured,
but it was the angel who surprised her.
"I miss cupping the wind in solid wings,"
he said with a flip of his feathers.
"These just aren't the same, and besides,
the rain leaks through if I spread my pinions too far."

It did, just a bit, but the scattered droplets
were still less oppressive than the steady gray curtain
now falling beyond the reach of their wings.
Between them it was warmer and quieter,
and she found it hard to remember
why this was a bad idea,
and hard to believe that the angel
with his soft sparrow feathers
had ever borne bat wings.

But if he had.  If he had.
If he had truly exchanged leather for feathers,
then perhaps this wasn't a trap,
perhaps he would -- impossibly --
understand  what it was like
to be judged so harshly by everyone.
Perhaps all things were possible.

"If you were a devil once," the busker said
with a rustle of her leathern wings,
"do you have any idea why I'm  meant to be one?"

"Perhaps you are not meant to be a devil,"
the angel said quietly, "but a devil's advocate."

"Come with us," the priest invited again.
"We won't pressure you to come inside.
If nothing else, you can sit on the church steps
out of the rain and play your songs in safety."

The busker gave a bitter laugh.
"I don't play church music," she said.

The priest shrugged and said,
"Your songs make people wonder.
People with questions come into churches."

"Because you have all the answers,"
she said to them.
"No, because God does,"
the angel replied.

"And God shares the answers so generously,"
she said, glaring at them.
"Not yet, but we keep hoping,"
the priest said.

The words plucked at her,
because that was the one thing
she had never been able
to walk away from:

So she picked up her guitar case
and walked with them to the church
under the sheltering feathers of their wings.

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12 comments or Leave a comment
From: technoshaman Date: December 4th, 2012 01:34 am (UTC) (Link)

I really like the hope bit...

though it rings a bell in me: "Hope is the bravest rebellion." -- Satyros Phil Brucato

(I don't think rebellion was what they had in mind :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 4th, 2012 02:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> *smiles* <<

I'm glad you enjoyed this.

>> I really like the hope bit... <<

There is a pervasive thread of hope throughout this series, even in the darker poems. Because redemption is always possible.

>> though it rings a bell in me: "Hope is the bravest rebellion." -- Satyros Phil Brucato

(I don't think rebellion was what they had in mind :) <<

I love that quote. I have saved it in my series notes. I think hope is a rebellion when the prevailing environment is one of hopelessness.

I'm also discovering that the fledermäuse are more integral to the series than I thought at first. It's still true that they orient to infernal rather than celestial energy, but turns out, there are different reasons why someone might do that. Also it matters a lot how people choose to treat them. Many are downright hostile, but then you've got a few like our priest who was perfectly willing to take in a risen devil. So that touches on the need for compassion and mercy and taking care of the less fortunate.
catsittingstill From: catsittingstill Date: December 4th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)
What a beautiful birthday gift! Thank you!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 4th, 2012 03:01 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad you like it.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 4th, 2012 04:24 am (UTC) (Link)

I don't remember if you've mentioned it in this series of posts: Do you know Cat's song Wings?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 4th, 2012 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)


>>Oh, LIKE!<<

Thank you!

>>I don't remember if you've mentioned it in this series of posts: Do you know Cat's song Wings?<<

Yes, several folks have recommended that one to me. I love it. The resonance is very similar to what I have going in Fledgling Grace.
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: December 4th, 2012 06:22 am (UTC) (Link)
So why did this one almost make me cry?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 4th, 2012 06:55 am (UTC) (Link)


Lots of possibilities, among the ones that tug at me:

* When different causes can result in similar effect, it's hard to distinguish between them.

* God does something totally amazing and what people do with it is make one of their favorite mistakes all over again, minting new prejudices.

* People getting picked on for something that's not really their fault.

* Isolation, alienation, being alone in a crowd, not being wanted.

* And when someone does want you it's for the wrong reasons and dangerous, and by the time someone comes along who's not an abusive jerk, it's hard to grasp that.

* But that doesn't stop people who are really determined to offer help.

Does that clarify anything?
rix_scaedu From: rix_scaedu Date: December 4th, 2012 08:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Maybe it was hope.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 4th, 2012 08:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Yeah, that'll do it, especially one warm bright thing against a cold dark background. For me anyhow.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: December 4th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
This was so, so beautiful.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 6th, 2012 05:14 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you liked it.
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