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."
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.