By Ben |

I wrote this poem in high school. It is not about anyone specific, but about a number of girls I knew who, at that age, felt they had to repress who they were. More of this story after the poem.


I knew
The first time I saw her
I knew
    Why she sat with her back so straight
        Showing lumpy through the shirts
        Like a stiff backpack
I could tell
    Why she wouldn't let anyone touch her
    Why she looked nervous and trapped
And she saw me
    And she could tell
        That I knew
We went upstairs
The weather was hot
    But she wore three shirts
    And a long dress
For beneath the shirts
    She had feathered wings
And under the dress
    She hid a feathered tail
Not red as a sunset
Nor pure white as snow
Nor black as night —
Nothing so obvious
Her feathers were dull brown
    Like her hair
    Camouflage for a human world
I remember
    The emotions she shared with me
        Fear of discovery
        Frustration from hiding
        Yearning to be herself
I can't forget
    The down of her hair
    The trembling of her wings as they embraced us both
I remember
I keep a dull brown feather
    In my pocket, always
And I imagine I feel
    On my back
    A pair of wings


My first year at Grinnell College, I submitted the poem to the student literary magazine, The Freehand Press. A few friends commented on it, but I mostly forgot about it.

When I came back my second year, a first-year girl made a point of meeting me. She said she had picked up a copy of The Freehand Press during her campus visit, and she was so struck by my poem that she decided she had to come to Grinnell so she could meet someone who had met a real angel! I hastened to explain that it was not about an angel, and I hadn't met one. She was very disappointed. I never saw her again.