Susan O’Dell Underwood

Susan O’Dell Underwood directs the creative writing majors at Carson-Newman University. Besides two chapbooks of poetry, From and Love and Other Hungers, she has published a full-length collection, The Book of Awe. Her work appears in journals and anthologies including Oxford American, The Southern Anthology of Poetry, and North Carolina Literary Review. She and her husband run Sapling Grove Press, devoted to promoting the work of writers and photographers in the Appalachian region.

Canto for Angels

Name one angel who isn’t strange, and a stranger. A stranger came to Mary and introduced her to her own body, announced what it was bound to do. From then on, angels wouldn’t give her a moment’s peace. There’s no getting away from that dark-alley snowflake of an angel. No two alike. Yours is, after all, all yours. It’s a surprise every time you need saving—so much saving, to offset the hubris and jockeying. So much human still underneath the wings. In high school, my sweetest, dearest friend—I’ll call her Cindy—was the first person I knew who believed in angels. Long before mass-produced Hallmark angels decorated our lives every day, all year, Cindy said she felt her guardian angel watching over her all the time. But there was not room for nearly enough angels, balancing side by side on the head of a pin. Or a nail. Or a railroad spike. Each angel would have to be a black-eyed nonconformist. Flawed and failing. Look around and know that angels are fallible, culpable. Each one envying the other’s trumpet. That maligned Angel of Death, will we know him when we see him? Perhaps he is no he after all, but your…