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.