Lately, two black-chinned hummingbirds
have taken over the giant hyssop
we grow on the balcony —
grown for them, it’s true
and for the bumblebees that come in July,
more vulnerable despite their size.
It used to be that only the broad-tailed hummers
fed at the purple flutes of the flowers
but they are mostly gone,
chased off by these smaller bellicose birds
who fight even among themselves,
smacking their pale chests together
in the air.
When one of the old kind appeared,
its scarlet throat flashing in the sun,
our cat swatted it from the blossoms:
it died slowly,
the red on its throat fading to gray
as though it had been a pulse of life.
It is almost August now.
The horizon stretches east,
an expanse of dark plain,
and the morning gleams from the patio
like wedding china.
But it is false summer:
when I look at these new birds,
at the cat patrolling the boards,
my heart clenches in a fist.
In the summer we sat out by the reservoir
and watched the water shrink.
The city sent us notices
about leafy spurge and spotted knapweed.
Sometimes we mowed lawn,
picked apples, Elberta peaches;
canned some, saw the rest rot,
the grass to our knees, the driveway clear.
Hummingbirds stopped by —
and jays, cowbirds, and robins —
so many even I, fifty years, tired of them,
remembered the old Indian
who taught me to bury birds
so I could dig them up
stripped of feather and skin
and learn their bones.
But not a word about the season
how when the cold came
they had all moved on,
and now, just the prints
of deer and foxes in the snow.
So starting out this morning
I disturbed you shaking in a branch
and only heard the sound that you made leaving.
Something I had never heard before:
a cry the snow the pines.
A broad-tailed hummingbird,
the one with the green back and the scarlet throat,
flies between two pines
at opposite sides of the lot,
pauses out of reach,
pivots in place,
first to the left: here’s my throat,
then to the right: here’s my tail,
pivoting left, and then to the right,
all the time whirring
around an invisible pin.
And then, of course, there is no pin.
That also was a mirage,
sound faking form:
a fiddle string vibrating so hard
it loses itself.
In the near dark
when the deer come out
he soars sixty feet into the air,
turns hard to ground
in a suicide dive
from which he must pull out,
but who could see it?
She can see it, a friend told me once,
down low in the lilacs —
sees him resurface
high in his inverted world,
where gemstones drop loose from the clouds
and lightning races into the sky
from the loving earth.