The Birth of an Angel’s Desire

Sometimes the angel Thomas calls the dog Harold. Harold’s left feet have three toes. The angel counted them twice.


The clouds are back. A young red-headed girl is here, holding a lime in one hand and in the other a stone. Take the picture now. Color it slowly in sepia.


The rain stops. Thomas’ neighbor Desirée is here, holding an apple in one hand and a peach in the other. The apple is for you. Take the picture now.


Harold and Thomas, they are sorry for something. They don’t know what it is, but they are very sorry. And then, unexpectedly, most of the people who live here have gone to visit people who don’t. Harold and Thomas begin waiting, all alone and very happy in their sorrow. Very happy.


Some of the people passing through on the way to the rest of their lives watch Harold and Thomas with curiosity as they pass. Harold and Thomas hope they’ll use the beds they have made. There’s a different size for Farmer Johnson and a double for the Royer twins and for the blind boy and the hopscotch girl there are smaller ones and they are even smaller and closer together for the nameless dogs. And there are extras, plenty of extras in all sizes. Harold barks happily and digs and digs and digs. Scrappy little holes in the ground. Appearing suddenly and growing. Five-toed, three-toed, five-toed, three-toed holes in the ground. Thomas finishes the holes with his shovel because that’s what his shovel is for.


Of course, many of these people are farmers. At least one of the farmers believes he can fly. “Ha! Fat chance! A little late!” Thomas says when he can’t be heard. “Some people think it’s that easy. Some people.”

The angel Thomas flaps and flaps. Harold barks. The angel shovels and flaps, shovels and flaps.


Some of these angels have spent most of their lives in the cellar. For a few it is the cellar that has lived in them. Inside, an absence has grown so large it is hard to imagine their souls without seeing shelf upon shelf of canned goods. Like a room awaiting a disaster. Or a room separating its occupant from the unpredictability of the elements even more than a house can. A room that could be below the house or above it. A room you could easily imagine moving apart from the house. A room like a cave that could travel without its occupant knowing it. An occupant busy saying, No more surprises for me. No more disappointments.

What catastrophe are we awaiting?


Some of these angels are trying to remember the shapes they have given to the people in their dreams. It’s harder than you might think. People are everywhere.


So the chosen ones line the streets with their sticks raised, their voices loud. When it’s over, they trail back into their apartments, which also line the streets, dejectedly. This is really too sad. There’s no one to beat.

Now they must punish themselves.

Not until many years later will they celebrate this holiday and stage pageants to reenact the sad, inevitable burning of the feet.

Walk home, they whisper. Walk home.

The first time is the most difficult. Human flight can be taught only one toe at a time. It’s the opposite of letting go.


Angels have many theories of death, but only one is believed to be a fact and many of them avoid it, but sooner or later they must face it and make sense of it. A few have lived a long time in death and the others who don’t haunt that world are haunted by it.


Thomas thinks he can’t keep this up much longer. An angel can’t pretend to like all of these people, but the ones the angel doesn’t like, well, they’re only the ones that disturb the angel, seeing them act the way an angel does when an angel is in trouble. Thomas can’t help hating that, but these people seem to accept it. These people are like that. They’ve grown too comfortable with their bodies. They take what they’ve learned about them for granted. It annoys Thomas deeply. An angel enjoys hating embodied strangers selectively so much he can’t hate them anymore. The novelty wears off. Just like knowledge of the body does. An angel hates that.


Since coming here, Thomas has learned to live in himself humbly and quietly, like a farmhouse in a field of wheat. He picks apples from the tree by the brook. He takes the ladder home, his day of earthly labor still held in his feet, curled in a muscular clutch like the feet of birds. He repeats his acts of need and repair in dream. Nights and nights of wind climbing, nights of sensual soaring, not just a suggestive whim but a low whistle of forgetfulness. A fugitive memory at that very moment in the trees when a wild young boy’s hunger shivers the birds in their sleep.


First there was the angel trying to fix a broken thing. Then the angel came to believe a broken thing had mended without him. That was how Thomas understood his defeat. Nothing had ever struck him so sharply. Even the air seemed injured.

A world had left him behind and a world had taken him in. He no longer knew where his two worlds met.


So let the moon wink in the crow’s dream. Let the people remember to thank their shoes. Let the night open the doors of shadows and enter. It’s darker now. It’s farther along. These people have always known that. Even in sleep they are walking away with themselves.


Because voices in the wind walk through the fields unseen, but not unnoticed, and often carry tales of birds with spirits that enter the grass and brush against the legs of Farmer Johnson and the Royer twins and the animals that listen and the children who play games of hiding and waiting. And especially the older children growing into each other.

And Desirée, who walks through the forest every night, talking to the owls and the nighthawks combing the meadow, and the ghostly opossum and the bats and the insects. She holds herself still in one place and waits for the forest to accept her. She remembers the nightsong of the creek. She separates the rustle of wind-coaxed leaves from the passage of animals and birds. She knows where the deer sleep and does not wake them.

Because sometimes these transitions do not end.

Because sometimes the dream still waits on its long capable legs.


Thomas sits at the window, watching people on the sidewalk. When the sidewalk empties, he stares at the mountains. If he stares long enough, if he is patient enough to understand their great burden, he can hear a tiny red music from the shafts of his hidden feathers, where the burden is resting.


As Thomas waits for the music to end, his thoughts sink deeper into the dead leaves he imagines still singing on the forest floor, intent even as they leave their bodies for the bodies of other creatures upon the last green strings of the Autumn in Flight Overture, already snoring lightly as the dew readjusts their weight.


Colors continue to offer their slow demise. We can hold to them and still be surprised. We can follow them until they disappear and wait for their return in another form. We can learn to recognize that other form.

Thomas understands waiting. A group of older men have been sitting on the porch of the hardware store every day except Sunday. Their brittle fingers tap the worn railing. One snorts with delight. He has discovered a new verse to an old song. People on the street smile as he teaches Olaf’s father, Esbjörn.

Soon the old men grow quiet again. Then Esbjörn rattles a large chain of keys. Marcus Royer plays with two spoons until they are music. The one they know only as Buck removes his teeth, clacking them between his fingers in imitation of the nagging wife he no longer has. He gums the words he has memorized, wishing she were still around to irritate him, and he tries to irritate the old men exactly that much.


Thomas has already learned enough about waiting to turn everything here to dust.


Once and for all the rumor that angels are secretly living in another dimension must be crushed. They are neighbors. It is not their fault if you have not recognized them, if you stare right through them as if they were not there when you pass them on the sidewalk. Their gardens are just as colorful and optimistically tended as yours. Their children’s shoelaces come untied as easily. Their noses run. Their relatives visit. Their cellars smell of mold and sweat and the games no one talks about. Their imaginations wander just as far.


Another green branch enters another angel’s dream. Thomas wakes and Harold is holding it in his teeth. The angel’s youth has arrived, ready to romp in the raw sunlight. A dog is helpful. As long as the feathers remain hidden. As long as abandon continues unhindered.

Rich Ives is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air. His book of days, Tunneling to the Moon, is currently being serialized with a work per day appearing for all of 2013 at

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