Fall 2017 / Issue 102

Katy Murphy

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.