Someone must’ve gone fetched him out,
towed the drowned, wing-wrecked bird
through a slick of his own feathery want,
though, more likely, he passed out
from knowing, and the falling distance
made the surface turn hard to his body.
It must’ve mattered to his father, who,
winged himself, had to watch fishermen
circle his son, like figures in a painting,
pondering as if there were meaning in water.
Is this any way to treat the ones who flee
and wash ashore, prodding their bodies
with toe, stick, a disbelieving finger?
This morning, walking along the road,
I found a hummingbird against the curb,
marveled at the glasswork of its stillness,
how the light was falling too, so I could
see shifting green and blue, the tiny cage,
the dark needle of its bill, the dark eyes
the ants will carry away. I can’t say
if it died from wanting too much
or from finding what it wanted too much.
Surely, Icarus had the heart of a hummingbird.
If they revived him, would he have risen
back into the sky, damaged wiser,
or, bratty, simply blamed his crap wings?
I nudged the bird with my shoe, not expecting,
but half wishing, a startling burst
through our myth-brightened world.
But the boy who ODed in a Porta-Potty,
was no bird at all. When his father found him,
his sun-jonesing heart large from hovering,
his friends—junk-caked, booze-skanked
themselves—turned away, puked in a ditch,
praying he’d break the surface of his misery.
Even outside the funeral home, dark coats
blocks long, dragging in suits they last wore
at graduation, for some sliver of rachis
and vane jutting out where wings might be,
they do not want to die, they only want
to feel less, less this. The way we, too,
standing in a line of pity and scorn, curse
all this away, we who love those
who love the air, the sudden lift and veer.

Copyright © 2017 James Hoch. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017

              And now, having dismissed everyone as he 
wishes he could dismiss his own dreams that make each 
night restless—that same unswayable knowledge, and
the belief in it, that he is 
                                             king here, which means
being a stranger, at least outwardly, to even the least 
trace of doubt—after all of this, the king has stepped 
from the royal tent, is walking toward the sound 
of water, where the river must be. There’s the river, 
rivering south, 
                           as rivers tend to. Beside the river, 
two men are fucking. Young men. Almost too young 
to even know about fucking, thinks the king, who can’t 
help noticing how the men bring a somehow grace
to the business between them—a grace that some might 
confuse with love. But the king 
                                                         rarely makes mistakes, 
which is to say, he knows mercy when he sees it. What 
does mercy have to do with fucking? What does love
have to do with grace? What are dreams but the only
rivers memory knows how to make? There’s a kind of
            to how the men routinely but unpredictably trade 
places entering and withdrawing from each other. It’s as if 
they’re singing a song that might go “I’m the king, no you’re 
the king and I’m the river, no you’re the river.” On and on,
like that. Leave them; they do 
                                                        no harm. The king making 
his slow, insomnia-ed way back. The night dark but not dark 
entirely: moonless, yes, but through the pines enough stars 
still visible. Whoever goes there,
                                                           let me pass. Beneath 
the brocaded cloak, each bead stitched to it by hand, 
beneath the cloak of some more breathable, lighter fabric 
beneath that, the king’s cock rests like tenderness itself 
against the king’s left thigh. How soft the stars look.

From Star Map with Action Figures. Copyright © 2019 by Carl Phillips. Used with the permission of the poet.