- Humpty in Our Hands
Humpty in Our Hands
I was part sky. From a height of seven metres, my songs rained into the village. From eight royal yards, my baritone cascaded the castle. I watched the world to its visible edge.
From both sides of the wall I was known. Some days I faced one way, some the other: flinging my legs over the width, with the momentum I spun on my axis to dangle on the sunny side. [End Page 169]
The far side became this side, these faces. I longed for touch. Twenty-four blackbirds once perched close, yellow feet clung rough to the stones. Almost, I could stroke their fiery backs—
When they drifted down to yank castle yardworms from the morning grass, a maid snatched them one by one with bare hands. The king was in the counting house. Those birds,
they would not stop. Their voices rang round and round my head. I wanted to last like that. As they sifted down the light, their black wings flashed crimson— Once,
I stood up on my thin legs. On heels made for lightly banging the shins of rocks, I placed the weight of my own becoming. Balanced on a parapet, cool stone succored the soles of my feet.
Glimpsing my face in the moat, so tiny, so far from myself and clear (a windless day, the water neither ruffled nor whispered), maybe I wanted what I saw. Maybe it was that day I leaned too—
Or. Maybe it was the day I saw a woman reading a book. Like the courtyard sun over her shoulder, through the intervening air, I read with her. Her musical fingers flipped quiet paper. A shadow
came over, and the text disappeared. The shadow solid, her own soft shoulder, her wild head—I wanted [End Page 170] to turn the page. Her body alongside mine. Wanted red-flecked wings—
Or was it that humid day and my glasses. Without them I can’t see the roofs of the barns. My glasses, first reach when I wake. Moisture, breath, rubbing them to clarity, when they leapt from my grasp, I lunged after—
I didn’t really believe death. I knew so little of effort, my own or anyone else’s. Was love an array, the pieces I saw from my wall? Gangs of birds, servants through the scullery window, broken leaves walking this way and that,
bunching in purgatory corners and floating yellow flags on moat’s dark. Fragment and trajectory, unavoidable dissolution everywhere, the wall was dusty in the flat places. My knees began to ache.
In the moat, water snakes rose and thrashed. In the kitchen, cook cracked an egg.
The metal rim of the mixing bowl rang a joy knell— Was it then? Or. That other time, answering a letter. At the crucial word, my pen ran out of ink. I reached for the borrowed one, handed up with a pole, and—
The fork ran away with the spoon, and Mr. Humpty gained his second name. The wheelbarrow, scoop, the bin. All night [End Page 171] we worked and to no avail. I lost my taste for shatterings. A shard in my pocket, I dared leave the king’s army.
Swinging, I was swinging my feet. Maybe it was laughter that made me. Careless. Or rage. Maybe determined, I flung myself down. Maybe it was all procrastination and I should have let go long ago—
The horses hooves. Too much, the clatter. But those sad, gentle soldiers, all their hands!
Christina Hutchins has won the Montalvo Biennial Poetry Prize and two Barbara Deming Awards. Her work appears in the New Republic, the Southern Review, the Antioch Review, Denver Quarterly, Sycamore Review, and Prairie Schooner.