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Poem: "Itching and Scratching" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Itching and Scratching"
This poem came out of the June 4, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] chanter_greenie. It has been sponsored by Shirley Barrette.

This is a direct sequel to "Pluck" and features a character from "Devil's Advocate." It builds on concepts introduced in "Hen-Feathered" and "Fledermäuse" so it will make more sense if you've read those first. These poems belong to the series Fledgling Grace.

Warning: This poem deals with life on the street, gang activity, alcoholism, homelessness, violence, vulgarity, sex traffic, discrimination, alternative gender identity, and other controversial topics. If these are sensitive spots for you, think carefully about whether you want to read on or skip this.


"Itching and Scratching"


The gangsta girl had to flee Atlanta
after it became clear that
she was no longer a fledermaus.

The members of her former gang
chased her through the streets
throwing bricks and bottles,
shouting that she had become a pussy
and was gonna get it tonight.

She barely made it to the station
and managed to smuggle herself onto a bus,
then fell into an exhausted sleep.
She hitched her way across half the country,
or stowed away when she couldn't thumb a ride,
because she might have been a fledermaus once
but damned if she would pay with pussy.
She'd rather walk.

The fraying lace of her leather wings
gave way to quills that pinched and itched
as they pushed their way through her skin.
The thin shafts gradually crumbled to powder,
releasing drab feathers one after another.
She had never dreamed of having wings
of any kind, let alone two, one after the other.

It took weeks even to figure out
what she had become:
a sparrow.
Well, there were thousands of those;
at least she'd be able to blend in like this.

Her wings still itched miserably,
so that she picked and scratched at them,
leaving them scruffy.
People wondered if she had mites
or maybe mental problems.

Violent alcoholic gang member, hello?
Of course she had problems,
which were not helped by these stupid wings,
although she hadn't been able to score
more than the occasional beer on her trip.
It left her surly and out of sorts,
and still she could scarcely sleep for the itching.

The gangsta girl got stranded in San Francisco.
There were worse places to be, she supposed,
but the damp chilly weather made her wings feel worse,
heavy as wet blankets hanging down her back.

She was huddled under a streetlamp
when a soft warm wing reached around her
and a sweet voice suggested they get out of the rain.
She was so desperate that she went along with it,
not caring what the cost might be.

The goldfinch had smart black-and-white wings
capped with cheerful yellow, soothing as sunlight.
Her hair was the brassy tone of a bad dye job,
and she had high small breasts wrapped almost flat
under an elastic bandage, pink t-shirt proclaiming "Boi."
She peeled off the t-shirt, velcro tabs ripping loudly
in the quiet room, and used it to towel off her guest.

Guest, huh.
It had been a while
since the gangsta girl
had been anyone's guest,
let alone friend, but that's how
the goldfinch seemed to be acting, so.

The next day was different, better,
or at least a little drier -- they went out
in the electrum light of early morning
to watch the fog flow and swirl
around the Golden Gate.
It was eerily beautiful.

The gangsta girl spent the day
looking for what work might be found,
but didn't find any.
Such was to be expected.

The goldfinch came home
with a shampoo bottle filled with
something that didn't look like shampoo.
Holy oil, she explained, a gift from a friend
who sang protest songs in front of a church.

The gangsta girl hated the holy oil,
how it made her feel more than naked,
how it reeked of spices that made her think
of a heaven she'd never seen and never would see;
but at least it stopped the infernal itching,
and she could stop scratching at them.

Finally her feathers lay quiescent against her skin,
glossy gray and soft brown an agreeable urban camouflage.
She could live with them. She would have to, now.

The goldfinch had her job, such as it was,
walking the streets to find men with money to spend.
The first time one of them tried to beat her up
and leave without paying, though, he got a rude surprise.
The gangsta girl might have lost her leather wings
but she still hit like a fledermaus.

This frustrated the goldfinch
and made it harder for her find work,
but a week later someone started a fight
outside the soup kitchen they frequented
and the gangsta girl put paid to that as well.
Which got them both jobs at the soup kitchen
in a roundabout way, and the two of them
weren't the most reliable at this kind of work
but they stuck with it because it meant free food
and a little cash along the way.

Sometimes they thought that life was crazy,
but other times, they didn't mind it so much,
as they sat watching the moonrise
spill silver over the bay,
their brown and gold wings
wrapped each around the other.

* * *

Notes:

Fledermaus is a German word for "bat," literally "flittermouse." They are much scorned in this setting, due to the association with evil.

Boi spans a wide variety of sex/gender identity. In this case, we have a female-bodied character with some kind of alternative sex/gender thing going on as indicated by the fact that she has the wings of a male goldfinch. She binds her breasts, and seems inclined to form relationships with women. But we don't know much more than that at this stage.

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Comments
From: technoshaman Date: June 15th, 2013 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
awwwwww. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: June 15th, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

This is kind of dark, but I had fun with it anyway.
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: December 28th, 2016 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)
It was a bit dark, but it ended on a hopeful note. Even if life isn't going to get much better, at least they have a connection, now.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 28th, 2016 02:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Sometimes, you have to take what you can get.
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