There is a moment
when the creature seems to disappear.
Nothing remains, but a quivering
in the air, the invisible finger
that runs your ridge of spine.
My students ask if it hurts
to become another. We’ve read
the stories of humans furred,
flesh erupting to wings, or scales,
gill-gasp of transformation.
I tell them some are stories of pursuit,
a dove answered with a hawk,
a hare with greyhound as reply.
Pursuer and pursued, their deft dance
that ended once with a grain of corn,
swallowed by a hen who birthed
the storyteller, Taliesin.
But what the students want to know is pain.
That remembered moment when
quills pierce skin, fingernails bleed
to claws. Beyond the window
winter’s first kiss startles the grass with frost.
I tell them yes,
there is always pain at birth or when
our tent of flesh opens
like a door to the sky,
and something more, you must
lean close to hear
the single note of joy.
Maureen McQuerry is a Young Adult novelist, poet and teacher. The Peculiars, her YA Steampunk novel, debuts in May with Abrams/Amulet followed by Beyond the Door and Time Out of Time. She is also the author of two non-fiction books: Nuclear Legacy and Student Inquiry. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals including Smartish Pace, Quidditty and The Southern Review. Her chapbook Relentless Light was the winner of the New Eden Chapbook award. Maureen teaches writing at Columbia Basin College and lives with her family in Richland, Washington. “Shapeshifter” originally appeared in Endicott Review.