On Writing "Without Wings" from issue 297.4

Carrie Shipers


When I was a teenager growing up in rural Missouri, I wanted wings so badly my shoulder blades itched, a feeling that resurfaces, albeit briefly, nearly every spring. I had the idea for this poem for quite a while before I began to actually write it, largely because I doubted I had anything new to say about the connection between wings, yearning, and modern adolescence.

What made the poem possible was a series of realizations: that wanting wings was less interesting than having them, which in turn was less interesting than wanting to lose your wings, and that if losing them was necessary to reach adulthood, no teenager would want to keep her wings for long. The “we” voice seemed vital as a way of capturing how adolescents try to penetrate the unfathomable mysteries of adulthood—through gossip, rumor, and urban legend as well as by consulting the well-meaning, but often ineffectual wisdom of adults who have (perhaps gratefully) forgotten how it feels to be a teenager.

As an adolescent, what I wanted from my wings was both grace and an external sign of the extraordinary changes I felt were taking place under my skin. At the same time, I often experienced a kind of aching fatigue: it was hard work, growing into myself, and I sometimes couldn't wait for the process to be over so that I could arrive at the other side as a full-fledged adult. Like many people, I can’t imagine wanting to be a teenager again—except perhaps for a few hours on a warm spring day, one with just enough wind to make my feathers lift and sway.

Carrie Shipers is the author of Ordinary Mourning (ABZ, 2010); she lives and teaches in central Wisconsin. Her work, “Without Wings,” appeared in North American Review, issue 297.4.