Elegy with Icarus and the Heart of a Hummingbird
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