Best of the Net 2013  

The Loss and Recovery of Wings

...some species of walking sticks lost the ability to fly at one point of their evolution and
then re-evolved it 50 million years later. Science & Technology Report, 2003

for Jennifer Patricia A. Cariño

My eldest daughter has fallen in love
     with the 1920s, researching costumes and props
          for a play: the flapper girl look—flounces and kick-pleats,
               the beaded rose-colored dresses and crinkly,

elbow-length gloves. The rest of her
     e-mail tells how her doctor has ordered
          a daily dose of Prozac instead of once
               every other day. Like her, I don't know

what to do about the sadness that came one day
     and took up lodgings in her body, what indifferent
          gardener had turned the humid soil
               into a jungle with a hundred clinging

vines. When she was just learning to walk,
     we'd take her to the park—cropped grass to cushion
          each fall; and in the distance, a view of rose gardens,
               of pleasure boats on the lake, the dip and lift of oars

barely stroking the water. This time and its afterward,
     like clear water then pleats, refracted, under glass.
          A world away I've lain sleepless or wracked by guilt,
               questioning my complicity in this design, what part

my leaving had, to invite the darkness in. Among stories
     we used to read, there's one I remember of a girl no bigger
          than a thumb, who spent her days hidden from
               the sun: like Persephone, the kidnapped bride of some

tyrant of the underworld. Those who've been there
     say not even the widest sympathy can teach
          how it really feels. The hard, bright seeds
               of forgetfulness burrow under the tongue

before they're swallowed. And yet,
     there is a part of the story I can enter,
          an inside I can see as if I had myself been
               there. One day, she too must have stared

hard at ceilings draped with curtains of steam,
     clouds of potato skins curling by her thumb
          and the useless paring knife, now only good
               for things congealed: rancid butter,

drippings from the candlestick, the scratching
     of a mole bent only on expanding his
          kingdom of tunnels. She knew somehow to secretly
               tend the wounded heart, to feed the bird

one beakerful of water at a time until that story ends
     in sunlit flight, in flowers. My daughter writes,
          Last night I dreamt I grew angel wings and wore
               rose-colored beads with matching gloves. Imagine that,

an angel with gloves!
In turn I tell her what scientists
     have discovered about those inconsequential
          insects we call walking sticks—masters
               of the art of camouflage, resembling broken

twigs overgrown with moss on the forest floor.
     Fifty million years ago they also once had wings.
          They might—who knows?—grow back again,
               grow like a dream lifting above the canopy.

In the documentary, the camera panned to a single-file
     line of leaf-cutter ants trudging off in the distance
          to wherever it is they must go, each tiny
               jointed body bearing aloft a triangle of green.

- Luisa A. Igloria (from ARDOR)