Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hummingbirds = Poetry

One night, Elias told me the story of Carlos and the dead bird he carried throughout his undergraduate years. It was such a revealing fact about him; I felt I understood Carlos more as a person. Apparently the hummingbird was a present from his grandmother, which represented Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec God of Sun and of War. Soon after his grandmother's death, he began carrying it everywhere he went--to his anthropology classes, down Guadalupe Street, and to score his dope. I urged Elias to base one of his characters on Carlos and his bird but after awhile I couldn't resist. A couple of days later, I wrote the first part to this poem:

At the edge of a bed
near the infection of light,
Carlos opens his velcro wallet
and plucks the dirty carcass
of a hummingbird inside.

A couple hours later, I wrote the following lines:

The muted feathers, the stiffened cartilage
nestled between a bank receipt
and George Washington's
crisp grimace.

And then I set it aside, untouched for months. I didn't know where I wanted to take the poem. I didn't want to focus too much on the Aztec part of the story, even though it was an integral aspect of the description and I also didn'’t want to make the poetic moment a happy one. Besides these two certainties, I had no clue what I wanted to convey. So, I waited, hoping to return and finish what I started.

During this time, I had just ended an intense pill-popping binge and was experiencing some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms--—I couldn'’t sleep, my depression deepened, my legs were restless beyond control. At one point, the thought of chopping my legs off at the knees sounded like a rational idea, anything to stop the aching, the hurt.

I found myself saying "If I only had a few more to take this shit away. That's all I want." It sounds almost like a prayer, and to be honest, it probably was. This experience made me think about the nature of addiction and the moment that most recovering addicts face, the moment of submission, of relapse:

If every story has a beginning
this one starts in a shadow
-scarred room when the ghost
of a grandmother enters
like smoke, like bloody gauze.

Everything about these moments is dark and there is no joy in them, only guilt and the terrible thought something hideous hovers over you. I then knew how I wanted to describe the grandmother's presence and the effect on her grandson:

Her eyes are stone, her hair
the stench of packed dirt.
In the air, her presence
is like a terrible thought.
Tremors rattle his body.
Turns walls into a dopey
mythic haze.

At this point, I could only describe how I'd feel at this particular moment. A moment where at some level, one simultaneously experiences a sense of loss and terror, of guilt and submission, a sense of love and hope.

He places the crusted bird
on the nightstand,
near a syringe.
A bird once a symbol of
an Aztec God, once a gift
meant to be carried
in a left pocket.
Love and Prosperity.
A reminder that she
is in between them.

No comments: