I would have been an ornithologist by trade, a student of feathers and wings, but when I went to enroll in my first class about the wonders of birds, I was ushered into a room with a dozen tables, each with long, thin drawers. One by one I opened them and found hundreds, maybe thousands, of limp, lifeless birds with little tags attached to their legs detailing their diets, range and migratory habits. I was an aspiring student of enchantment. Beyond their mating songs, their nesting habits, I wanted to learn about the religion of birds. Their crusades. Their sins and obsessions. Their prophets and demons. I left that fourth-floor room. Its chemical stenches. Its white robes draped over its chairs as if priests or klansmen had recently been evacuated. A few days later I started sprouting feathers. First across my shoulders. Then down my arms. My lover ran her fingers across them and asked if I was planning to fly away. I tried to explain about them, but instead of speech, out came little bursts of song.
David Shumate is the winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and author of Kimonos in the Closet (2013), The Floating Bridge (2008) and High Water Mark (2004), all published by University of Pittsburgh Press. His poetry has appeared widely in literary journals and has been anthologized in Good Poems for Hard Times, The Best American Poetry, and The Writer’s Almanac, as well as in numerous other anthologies and university texts. Shumate is poet-in-residence at Marian University and a lecturer in Butler University’s MFA program. He lives in Zionsville, Indiana.