We Went to See Hummingbirds in the Aviary

Mingpei Li

They lived in the Butterfly House. I saw

one once in the Castro, a July day shrugging

with the diffidence of October, and I don’t want to say

the intrusion of magic into an ordinary

day but there it is. We saw butterflies

but not hummingbirds, and I wanted

to point one out to you. I wanted the flutter

of joy to steep in you as it had me, rapidly

blinking my eyes to make sure

I had it right. I wanted to point out to you

the unassumingly beautiful, the suddenly here

and just as soon gone of it, something

we could ask each other, Do you remember? about.

It had been your job once, to annotate

the world in this way, name the airplane

I pointed to, the wonton I thought was called

mosquito but wasn’t mosquito. It had been your job

to ask in letters whose pages were held

together with silence, when you donned yellow

rubber gloves and sank into Pine-Sol, whether

I would know what smell overwhelmed you

as you scrubbed floors, saved

money, taking care of children for cash that

one day would take care of me. I hadn’t thought

it would be mine so soon, becoming an augmented reality

you reached for, wondering if the elusive

hummingbird was a symptom of your detached cornea,

its trilling wingbeats the scratch of letters spilling

down your page. I hadn’t thought one day

you would ask and I would go back to get another

napkin for you from a tucked away bakery

in Paris, quietly scolding myself all the while.


about the author