Down through her ancestral line,
stories flowed like a meandering river
of a word of mouth prophecy whispered
woman to woman at river’s edge, long peasant skirts
tucked into waistbands,
the tale uttered against the rhythmical beating
of clothing against rocks.

They swirled between a clan of Irish women
warming chilblain hopes over a peat fire, lips clamped on clay pipes,
stoically waiting for their men to emerge,
hollow-eyed and foreign looking, from the bowels of coal mines.

The prophecy boarded rat and disease infested ships
bound for America, carrying passengers
whose mouths remembered and yearned for
the taste of potatoes,
and eventually trickled down amongst brisk housewives
married to identical houses, impaling loads of wash onto taut umbrella lines,
in the suffocating sameness of suburban back yards.

The chosen one, they intimated
(with eyes quick to note the feared intrusion
of a male clan member)
will one day break the curse of many generations.
Her features will shimmer so bright and pure, that when
you gaze upon her in her full winged glory
you will instantly become your truest self
no longer daughter, wife, mother
or female, even,
but simply and deliciously human.

As the prophecy ebbed and flowed with the
muffled fervency of damned up dreams,
narrators and hearers alike imagined the width and breadth
and toughened texture of the chosen one’s wings,
each one furtively eying their own daughters and sisters
for sign that favor had smiled upon their household.

The scrawny girl of ten heard of the chosen one
from the lips of a bitter great-aunt, who scoffed at the prophecy
but couldn’t resist passing it along as she would any
stray bit of careless gossip.

The girl bent to tie a frayed shoelace, hiding the jolt
of recognition the words sent through her body
like an electrical shock,
cheeks flushed with holy excitement.
She braced herself, knowing from the quickening of blood
thrumming through her veins,
and an oddly sweet taste lingering in her mouth—
as if manna had melted on her tongue—
that it would come down to her:
the only daughter of a cruel man,
her very unworthiness both a proof of the curse
and its ultimate undoing.

And so begins her weekly ritual.
Balanced on a chair in the privacy of her bathroom,
she turns sideways to the mirror and bares a shoulder,
gazing with longing at the reflection of child flesh,
rosy and half-formed.

She squints for telltale nubs, the beginning of wings,
like the precious first glimpse of a baby tooth pushing
through pink swollen gums, or like the bud bumps each spring
on the branches of the dogwood tree gracing her front yard.

The nubs will grow sturdy and knuckle-hard,
snagging the cotton sheets upon which he shoves her down,
roughly dividing her legs to plumb the depths of the river
hidden beneath the surface of her own little terra firma.

Soon she will fly into the night away from
his drab lusts,
the movement of her glorious wings
awakening women everywhere.
They will peek from behind curtains, or stand on porches, shivering.
One by one husbands or boyfriends or children
will call them back to bed,
their voices demanding, wheedling or whiny,
but not before they’ve witnessed the rapture
of the one chosen to guide and illuminate their own easy
flights into their sturdy, intended selves.


Debra Rhodes

Happy Valley, United States

  • Artist
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Artwork Comments

  • SimplyRed
  • Debra Rhodes
  • Debra Rhodes
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