Becoming Bird

by Bob Hicok

It began with a tattoo gun to his back.

Face down, he sniffed the skin of dead men

on an execution table the artist bought

from a guard who pinched it from the trash

at Jacksons' Prison. It was to be one feather

outside each scapula, an idea

that arrived while he flipped Art

Through the Ages past the slide view

of Kristos Boy, who without arms and confined

to the appetite of marble, still seemed

poised for air, to lift through the roof

of the Acropolis Museum into the polluted sky

of Athens, bound for translucemce. But healed,

turning left, right in a sandwich of mirrors,

the lonely feathers asked to be plucked,

the black ink grew from the root of dusk

to charcoal tip, they'd have fluttered

if wind arrived, reflex to join the rush,

but alone seemed less symbolic than forgotten.

So he returned to the Cunning Needle,

to Martha of pierced tongue and navel, said

wings and she slapped the table, added

coverts and scapulars, secondaries

and tertials, for a year needles chewed

his skin closer to hawk, to dove, injected

acrylic through gtiny pearls of blood.

Then with a back that belonged to the sky

he couldn't stop, sprouted feathers

to collarline, down thighs, past knees

and his feet became scaled, claws gripped

the tops of his toes, she turned him over

for the fine work of down, he laid arms

on the syringe–wings of the table,

a model of crucifixion dreaming flight

through the pricks. So now, by day's end

he can barely hold back the confidence

of his wings. At home, naked with eyes

closed, he feels wind as music

and dreams his body toward a mouse

skimming the woven grass, not considering

but inhabiting the attack, falling hard

as hunger teasing the reach of land,

while from the ink of the first tattoo

a real feather grows, useless but patient.

About the Author:
Bob Hicok's poetry has appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Paris Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror annual, and the Best American Poetry anthology. His books include Animal Soul, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Plus Shipping; Bearing Witness; and The Legend of Light, which won the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and was an ALA Booklist Notable Book of the Year. Hicok has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes and an NEA Fellowship. He currently lives in Virginia, where he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

"Becoming Bird" copyright ©2000 by Bob Hicok. The poem first appeared in Quarterly West #51, 2000 and may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.