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  • Incredulous Essay on Hummingbirds
  • James Richardson (bio)

Whirr of spokes, little splashof tachycardia—everything about them is too vivid

to believe,as if they were illustrations somehowlifted from the page,

even their obvious hoveringa kind of concealment, the wingsinvisibly swift.

Some weigh less than a penny, little morethan my first thoughtwhen I see one—this

can live?


Infallibly the surpriseof their first droning in the garden,

all dangerof frost past,

freezes me (the stingof a bee that loud would kill


White blooms are flame enoughto draw them, seeing what they see

of ultraviolet colors, [End Page 131] to us, mere rumors.


The whirling turbineof the wings, the heart strobinga thousand times a minute—

Time must ragein them. If I touched one,


my hair would silver, and my bonesgray.

Naturally, their torpor,as it's called, is in proportionsteep and dark, a 90 percentdrop in metabolismthat an insomniac could envymore than flight,

even the tiny lightin their headsoffthat they would need to dream.


Busy winds, tiny flywheels loosedfrom day's machine—

no way, from the meresipping of nectar, could they build

feather and speed and tendon,yet seeing them snap up

insects when they thinkno one's looking [End Page 132]

is faintly a letdown. I wantedsweetness to be that strong.


It isn't

humming, is it?—the note changingmore slowly than the weather.

We'd have to listenall summer, and to all of them at once,

to hear the whole song,its secrets hiddenright there in the open

from us, always too lightly turningto our smaller, quicker tasks,

as if anything at all could be an ending. [End Page 133]

James Richardson

James Richardson's previous collections of poems and aphorisms include During (2016); By the Numbers (2010), a National Book Award finalist; Interglacial: New and Selected Poems and Aphorisms (2004), a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist; and Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001), all published by Copper Canyon Press. For Now will be published in 2020.



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pp. 131-133
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