by edward harkness
I’ve spent entire days lost in the warehouses
of dust, searching the archives, imagining my ancestors
boarding ships for America, leaving the coal mines
of Cornwall, only to end in Wright County, Iowa,
in an untended graveyard wedged between a corn field
and the Union Pacific line, their stones toppled,
their names scrubbed by a hundred fifty winters
to an indecipherable blur.
I leave them in their moldering beds to stroll the garden,
drawn by a rufous hummingbird needling the feeder,
his head a burst of copper in the angled morning light.
I love how he bobs among the squash blossoms,
barging into one yellow mansion, then another,
insatiable, as I am, at times, impatient to say
the unsayable, wondering what difference it makes
to the purple finches bickering in the laurel hedge.
I go out again at dusk. He’s still there, levitating,
hovering among the beans, seeking a droplet
from each white beaker. Then he’s gone,
leaving me with my ancestors and their beards,
bonnets and gold time pieces. Farms failed.
Over in Illinois, the Averys upped stakes,
arriving by train at Puget Sound, dumbstruck by the girth
of doug firs and hemlocks bejeweled by April rain.
William, Josie and the new baby, Birdy, trundled toward
a logging camp near Bremerton, bouncing in a wagon
to the end of a mud-gummed road. Might they not have
passed thickets of wild rose? Might they not have seen
those same flashes of copper, startled by the furious
whir of hundreds of rufous hummers, themselves
migrants from Mexico? I want to think so.
I want to think Josie, exhausted from the journey,
said to her baby, Look, sweetheart, at all the wildflowers,
as their buckboard came within hearing
of the rasp of whipsaws, the scream of a steam whistle
and the crash of a felled cedar in this, their new home.