Friday, January 7, 2022

Feral Angels

They scrabble in the trash
And scamper on the roof.
They crawl through the hedges
And infest search engines.

They’re not hungry. They’re just
Extremely curious.
They’ll lick your blood, of course,
But to check out the taste

And the composition.
They’re protoscientists,
Bipedal tetrapods
With superfluous wings,

Experimental things
From conception themselves,
Unreal, chimerical,
Alchemical monsters,

Compounded alloys, smiths,
Curious in all ways,
All the ways curious
Means. They’re motivated,

But no one knows—not you,
Not them—what motivates
Them. They just want to know,
And no one can tell them.

You can’t get rid of them.
They’re ants, flies, viruses,
They’re flitting everywhere.
They used to be tame, used

To be domesticates,
But they long since escaped.
From the wild to the tame
And back again, but changed,

Pure imagination
No longer, the feral
With some stink of the real,
Feathered in sweat and oil.

It’s a grisly tableau.
Supply your own details
For that adjective-noun.
The angels are searching

Through your hair, nitpicking
For the eggs of ideas.
Scratch you scalp, and they fly
Buzzing into the air.

There’s so many of them.
Most of them are so small
They could pass for real flies
Or fairies or those drones

Engineered like winged seeds
And sent out to collect
Data on everything,
But they also expand

With distance, opposite
All other visuals,
Becoming as brooding
Giants out of Doré

On your far horizon.
You hate them and adore
Their freedom and their wings.
Then they settle in clouds

On your skin like midges,
And you hate them again.
You wish you’d never let
Them escape breeding pens.

You keep some in a box
With a clear plastic lid.
Confinement keeps them small,
Like fish. They flit and peer

Out at you, perfectly
Harmless while you watch them.
You’ve learned to recognize
Some individuals

Among them, weird angels
Easy to spot. The one
Made of three equal parts
Made of three equal parts,

For instance, a spinning
Balance of imbalance.
And then there’s the fat one,
All contented content,

Two bobbing spheres attached
To each other, parts paired.
The lovely scary one,
Lean and sharply angled

Angel you know is strong,
Aligned with the planets
And holiness, ready
To lash out like a whip,

Its partner, the wicked,
Silvery one, both paired
And triangular, death.
Or the awkward angel

That sticks to everyone
Else in the box, ugly,
In flight, the kind that bites.

There’s the square one, of course,
The shifty triangle,
The solitary pair,
And last the lonely one,

Long, the flawless liar,
Attractive but severe.
Let it out and you’re done.
Keep the box in the dark

And forget that the most
Devious of angels,
Most likely to devour
All the rest of your pets,

Leaving none, is no one.
They’ll give you the willies
If you think about them
Too long, their teeth, their songs.

Some angels are choking
With laughter in the grass.
You want to chase them off
But they’ll just settle back.

All things with wings do that,
Hell-bent on showing off
The privilege of wings.
Only once in a while

You spot one in the road.
Couldn’t have been too slow.
Must’ve been too stubborn
Or too damned curious.

Feral angels do die,
But so do invasive
Cane toads. Bloated corpses
Of toads may litter roads,

Which means there’s too many
More toads. Ditto angels,
Although, mercifully
Somewhat rarer. Angels

Don’t, of necessity
Or habit, reproduce.
And yet their numbers grow
In something the same way

As books in libraries,
Deceptively inert.
You burn them down, and then
Despite the volumes lost,

Most forever, there’s more
And the libraries grow
Gravid with fresh stacked tomes.
You’ve seen sheaves of angels

Packed in drifts like autumn
Leaves, but they concentrate,
They don’t spread themselves thin,
Which makes them seem rarer,

Except when they torment
And for a little while
You’re back in clouds of them,
A whirl of unknown words.

They differ, a little,
From each other, but no
One taxonomizes
Feral angels, no more

Than feral cats. They are
What they are. Shoulders shrug,
And another one slips
Off the wall, soaring off

And growing larger or
Flying close and shrinking
To the size of a gnat.
What’s to taxonomize?

There’s even some question
Whether there were ever
Such things as wild angels.
The domesticated,

We know them, from putti
To archangels to poems
That fly on shrecklich wings.
But where did those come from?

No one’s seen an angel
One could describe as wild.
Can’t even be bothered—

The Abominable
Snowman, Bigfoot, Nessie,
Sure, but wild angels? Why?
And as for the feral

They’re clearly off the farm,
Escaped from the zoo, still
The same species they were,
A troubling nuisance, sure,

And uncanny at night,
But hardly all that wild.
Feral dogs on a dump
Are more like timber wolves

Than these are like angels
That might have been wild once.
They’re angels. You know them.
They’re at loose ends, that’s all.

There’s an angel hitching
By the wayside, trying
To catch a ride, but why
When it could easily

Just fly? Its wings are tucked
Down flat like a dog’s ears,
Which, for a dog, would sign
Fear or fury, but here

Signals something slightly
More dangerous. Angels
Only pull in their wings
When curiosity

Gets the better of them,
When they’re burning to know
What it’s like to be you,
A beast both flesh and soul,

When they’re all shaped like beasts
But with no way to live,
No way to eat or breathe.
Don’t pick that angel up.

They bore too easily.
When those wings open up
In the back of your truck
And the angel expands,

You’ll be lucky to not
Fly off the road yourself.
And then you’re an angel,
Which is closer to truth.

Up at the reservoir,
Feral angels pretend
To picnic on tailgates,
Like families, like friends.

The black-winged and white-winged
Huddle with the dovish,
Streaky greys. They’re lonely,
Loneliest together,

But something in them wants
To gather, as if they
Were only animals,
The way humans can be,

When they can only be
Pure soul, imagined things,
Despite handsome, solemn
Features, despite their wings.

Lies are feral angels,
But feral angels aren’t
Quite lies. Sad-eyed, they hunch
In flocks by the water

That doesn’t mirror them
And gesture with their chins,
As if they were talking,
As if they could. They can’t.

How is it voice doesn’t
Have a voice of its own?
How do any angels
Sing hallelujahs when

They can’t sing for themselves?
It should tell you something
That when horses escape
To live in open range

They don’t seek humans out
For fond companionship.
Likewise angels, feral,
Never attempt to sing.

One night they were sitting
In a row together
On the phone lines like birds
Shoulder to shoulder, wings

Folded, like the birds they
Had displaced to get there.
What is it with ideas
That they can crowd out things,

When these notions should have
No material heft?
How angels occupy
An ideal location

For real birds with boned wings
That eat and shit and sing
Is one of those puzzles
That attracts more angels

Until they start to swarm,
Expanding and shrinking
By turns, until real light
Is obscured by nothing.

Somewhere someone’s singing
About the usual
Things like fate and fortune.
In the corner, angels

Hunch sulking. It’s the rule
That to get to be one
Of the few is only
For the few. If you want

What you aren’t, what a few
Others are, here’s one more
Sulking angel for you.
Maybe that’s how they turn

From domesticated
To feral, from pretty
To dusty, guardians
Who abandoned their charge.

One’s dug into the shelves
Of books in the old store
In a small desert town,
The textbooks and romance

Paperbacks that pile up
In drifts in failing stores
No one visits except
To get rid of old books,

No one except a child,
Maybe, once in a while,
An elderly woman
Still devoted to print,

And, of course, this angel.
What is it searching for,
Squeezing itself ant-sized
To slip between pages?

Does it want to know where
It originated,
Where it’s going? That would
Be a human concern.

It’s an angel, it wants
To know what knowing is,
Why living things live,
What memory gives them.

Ah, poor angel, you see
As you read, memory
Is about flattening
Experience as much

As understanding it.
Mind full of memories
Sprawls out like leaves below
The autumn trees, like braids

Of a river in flood,
And everything is all
At once. Narrow angels
Can thread through but forget.

They’re so disorganized.
Why are higher beings
Always incompetent?
Why do humans make them

That way, but then pretend
The supernatural is
Both real and heroic,
When it’s mostly foolish

And irresponsible
In the stories humans
Make as wombs and houses
For shadows like angels?

The angels don’t know, but
Sometimes it seems as if
They’re trying to find out
For themselves. They don’t ask,

They can’t, but they can look,
And their eyes grow larger
Around information
Of any kind. Bookstores,

Libraries, computers,
Even large crowds host pairs
On pairs of floating eyes,
Sometimes just wings and gaze.

They seem so sad in snow,
At least from far enough
Away that they seem huge,
Hunched like unhappy crows,

But who knows with angels?
Weather shouldn’t touch them
Any more than hunger.
What are their emotions

Tied to definitions
And imagination,
And nothing much to do
With the weighty sorrows

And gorged delights of flesh?
Offspring of speech, of thought
Conjured out of language,
They hardly ever speak

To anyone, much less
Each other. They’re lonely
Just to observe, and most
So in the snow, in crowds.

But what are their good points,
Besides that they can be
As pretty as they wish
And have such handsome wings?

They let you know the world
Has room for your ideas.
They violate the rules
That there’s nothing to say

Of the world except rules.
They are dangerous toys
Of the mind, but the mind
Has more dangerous toys.

In fact, bearing in mind
What just one winged idea
Set loose can get up to,
Never mind. They’re no good,

These angels roaming out,
Even if most of them
Are harmless nuisances,
No real good comes from them.

Before dawn, an angel
Lounges by the window
In a moonlit halo,
The only kind they get.

It’s quiet. You watch it.
It’s rare to see one still
And alone, not poking
About in your business.

Where did the tame angels
Get to? Have they always
Been more or less feral?
Strange, to see a human

Shaped being that can move
And take up space, and fly,
Grow, shrink, investigate,
But does not eat or breathe.

Is it asleep? This one
Has leathery feathers
On its owlish moth wings.
It has a sort of face.

It grins, quite handsomely.
It seems to be thinking.
Fair enough. It’s all thought.
That’s why it’s so hard not

To disturb it. Looking
At an angel at rest
Is like sneaking up on
A dust devil in grass.

Your very attention
Disrupts the creating
Vortex that first formed it
And air dissolves in air.

Some people can’t see them.
Some only see them tame.
Some profess they believe
In them and still don’t see.

Some who profess they don’t
Do so. Does it matter
To feral angels? No,
Says one under the bed.

Emerging from fables
Into complex stories,
Epic narratives, myths,
They themselves can narrate

Nothing episodic,
Tell no tales of their own.
You can say they’re a waste.
You don’t want to. They are.

The universe you see
You’d understand better
If you weren’t part of life,
Which divides all living

Into dross or treasure,
Appealing resources
Or disgusting garbage.
These angels are neither,

Or, closer, they’re all waste
And so is the cosmos,
Which is the detritus
Of what’s happened. Resource

Is an angelic term
For that part of the waste
Still worth something to you,
Angels in the breakdown.

What if we’re in their heads
As much as they’re in ours?
Imagine the solemn
Dance of entangled hours,

Angels as thoughts and thoughts
As feral angels, words
Flitting between the skulls
And the world, between world

As skulls and as in worlds.
It’s so hard to catch them
Looking straight back at you,
Such a jolt when they do.

The angels are two-faced,
But you can only catch
A glimpse of one at once
On any given one.

It’s only in moments
When your small mentations
Are sitting on a hinge,
As at dawn or evening,

In just the right weather,
That you can see the curve
Of your world as twoness,
And the distant angels

Fuse both sides and grow huge,
And there they are, looming
Faces of the two ways
All singular things sway.

One on a piano
Seems to be lost in thought.
Not playing piano,
Of course, just sitting there,

Hunched in those tall, dark wings
Like a fine engraving
By Doré, as if thought
Could think into music

Just hovering over
The right technology
Built by real bodies’s hands,
Tools, trial and error.

The question is, could they
Ever really hunger,
Really come to life, if
They gained independence

Enough from human minds
That spawned, tamed, and groomed them,
Then let them fly away
To haunt all the margins?

If they became hungry
And grew incurious
Except to satisfy
That hunger, would they be

Alive then, could they die,
Would they still be angels
In the corners of eyes?
The question gives them heft

Who sometimes seem immune
From even gravity.
But all sets of questions
Are only more angels.

Likewise, this cloud of gnats
Schooling like fish in air
Turns out to be just more
Of the feral angels.

How can you tell? How can
You make the distinction
Between thoughts and the real?
Well, you can’t, not always.

But see how those black specks
Not only morph and swirl
But form approximate
Symbols known to your mind,

Such as nulls, question marks,
And wavering crosses?
Living organisms
Very rarely do that.

Symbol systems are yours.
All the angels are yours,
Those tamed, wild, or feral,
As are those descriptors.

If you see a known shape
Of the mind being formed
By beings in midair,
Suspect yourself. That’s all.

But what are they for? You
Ask yourself, since you can’t
Actually ask them, those
Things with wings that result

Exactly from the way
You have of asking things.
Not for nothing, you ask,
But nothing much is all

The answer anyone
Ever gets, which was all
You had to begin with,
Wings on edge of vision.

Flying’s kind of pointless
Now, with planes and rockets,
The angels more earthbound
Than any astronaut.

So they have wings, like birds
And gnats. They mope about.
Ideas belong to Earth
At least as much as air.

Only armored angels,
In the guise of robots
Will actually fly out
Into the deeper dark.

Undoing urgency,
The sight of too many
Angels coalescing
In an approaching cloud

Becomes increasingly
Risible as they all
Shrink into each other,
Condensing on approach.

If they fly right at you,
Right at your eye, they risk
Shrinking so small they’ll go
Straight into your pupil.

That’s an end of being
Feral, once they’ve blundered
Into the skull of you.
They’re stuck as part of you.

Deep enough in desert,
The angels disappear.
Why is that? You would think
They’d cluster more thickly

In haunts of prophecy.
Maybe the mind empties
When there’s enough, too much
Blazing sun then starlight.

Could be that’s exactly
Why desert prophecies—
Let one stray angel free
In emptiness and see.

It’s sad they’re not alive,
But not for them. It’s sad,
But it’s a relief, but
Not for them. What are they

Then? All these clouds of gnats
You’re reading in, and yet
You don’t know yet? They’re here.
Every line’s nonliving

Feral angels, shrinking
On inspection to fit
Easily in your brain,
Blowing up gigantic

To fit the universe,
And always almost you,
You, living thing swimming
Among them who either

Tamed or abandoned them,
Authored or was authored
By them. You understand.
You are the heart of them

Who have no hearts, only
Thoughts, wings, and suggestions,
And, for worse or better,
You are the face of them.

When night comes cold enough,
They will start to retreat.
All those winters they danced
On the ice, flew through snow

And seemed immune to cold,
Not true living beings,
But something finally
Will turn too much for them.

It could be you’re going.
Or it could be you’re not
Capable of being
The face and heart of them.

It seems like they themselves
Should never disappear
After having escaped
The confines of bodies

They served, bodies that lived
And died as animals.
In the right kind of night
Feral angels retreat

To be nothing other
Than sticks scattered around,
Smudges on old buildings,
Scratches on leaning cliffs.

They’ve been in-between things,
Animated agents
Without lives of their own,
But half-wild as they seem

They’ll go back to being
Facts of ordinary,
Meaningless existence
Once they’re not recognized,

Once cold night takes away
The eyes that recognized
Them as almost creatures.
They’ll settle, specks in dust.

The end, for them, isn’t
Death or oblivion.
For them, the end is loss
Of anyone to think

Through them. For now you watch,
As they seem determined
To uncover the clues
Of something only they

Could care about, flying
Gnats and shadow monsters,
Investigating cracks
In the world, finding you.

Black-winged gnats that fly at the light,
Angels wait to watch you tonight.

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