On the Variety of Angels

        Young boys sing like them. Women in bars look like them. We call children them, if they are small and waifish and still look bright-faced when dirty.
        They can fly because they take themselves so lightly. They can fly because they carry no burdens. If we were them, we would need no government; if governed by them, we would not need to worry.
        Aquinas proved they exist, but said we should not expect to see them. Seventy-seven percent of American adults believe in them, or, forty-three percent of us do, or fifty-four. We have paintings of them, photographs, security-cam footage. Last year, one was caught on camera protecting fighters in Syria, a thin thing moving against blast marks in the middle distance, like a silhouette but completely white.
        We are told they are male, but mostly we draw them female.
        There are nine types of them, three types in each of three categories. One kind has the body of a serpent. Another is like a sphinx. Some of them look like great glowing wheels covered with many eyes.
        Priests say we should not name them.
        Once, in another country, a girl died and lay like one for three days in her parents’ house. On the third day, neighbors came and piled feathers at both her sides.
        Once, when a child was born before it was a child, it was dressed and kept as one.
        If they did not exist, there would be too great a gap between us and god. If they did not exist, departed souls would have to lead themselves.
        The greatest of them fell further than we can fathom, and he waits for some of us when we die. Some believe that, after a while, he redeemed himself, flying up from hell with the radiance peacock feathers. Recently, forty-thousand people who believed this fled to the mountaintop where Noah’s Ark once rested. When they came down, they were killed.
        Nowhere does it say we become them when we die.
        A certain shop near my house used to sell only them. There were thousands of them, of porcelain, of glass, of stone, with bells on them, on bells, coming to the knee, to the hip, held three in a hand, red-blond and silver-blond and yarn-yellow, embracing and praying and glittering in flight. When inside, one always walked very lightly.


Ethan Madore is an essayist from New England. He is currently the Provost's Visiting Writer in Nonfiction at the University of Iowa, where he teaches creative writing and is at work on his first book.