In The Hummingbird Exhibit At The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

by Katy O. Murphy
For my father
A green bird hovers above red rock 
and disappears into a thicket of ocotillo. 
Dashes of color flit around our heads, 
dive between branches, rise 
to the netted ceiling, scatter
like flecks of paint: blue topaz, 
magenta, tangerine. 
You grab my shoulder and point 
to the cactus beside us—Remember
that one, Kate? Jumping cholla. 
My ankle like a spiked bat 
in your lap as you pulled the two-inch 
spindles from my flesh. 
How could I forget? It only takes one time 
to learn what not to touch in the desert—
seat-belt buckles, the horned toad, 
the blood that shot from its eyes 
when I brought it in the house. 
Your hand still gripping my shoulder, 
the words I knew would come spill 
softly from your mouth: diagnosis, 
prognosis, atrophy, months. There are tears 
in your blue eyes, and my whole body 
feels far away, trapped under rock. 
You take my sun-warmed hands in yours. 
We watch the birds, the fierce choreography 
of their rituals, until it’s time to pass 
back through the curtain of long rubber slats, 
the antechamber and two sets of doors 
that keep them inside. As I help you 
to your feet, a sliver of purple lands 
on your shoulder, decides you’re its flower 
for a moment, then shudders from sight—
a piece of dust blown from a band of light.
I read that if a hummingbird lingers
near, it brings with it the power to achieve 
something impossible. But when 
a sliver of sunlight kisses 
the wrinkles of your neck, tickles
your skin with the tips of its wings,
what does that mean? The ruby-throated bird 
lifts from the cotton of your shirt, floats 
as close as it can get to the sky, 
and I wonder where it would go, 
what it would do in the world
if it could. Drink chuparosa in Oaxaca? 
Steal thread from a red skirt drying on the line? 
When the sun staggers behind the Catalinas, 
the hummingbirds hold their breath.