Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday, Redux

I have a busy lawyer day, then my class.

At one time, I meant to be a poet.


-The American artist Martin Johnson Heade in Brazil,
near the mountain resort of Petroplis, November 2, 1863

Emerald green, spring green, viridian.
Thalo green, cadmium green, and behind all,
along the face of the forty-foot cliff, sea-green lichens,
evergreen moss, a depth of woody, twisting vines––
black, burnt orange, purplish browns––
riotously twined with orchids and flowers
of great variety: passion flowers, gardenias,
flowers sipping moisture from air; their florid colors––
pinks, lavenders, oranges, so many reds––
that color most favored, it would seem, by all
hummingbirds. And the empty hands
of the extravagant palmate leaves
that shade the face of the cliff.
I had gone early that morning, several miles south
of the city, along the Estrada Real
with Capitao Gonzales, his lovely sister Rosa,
her several Negro servants.
My plan––to sketch where I had observed
so many hummers on the carriage ride from Rio.

I was drawing trumpet flowers,
behind me, Rosa and her servants, arranging
a picnic across a rosewood table. The hummingbirds
were Brazilian Rubies––six to eight males––
iridescent green with vibrant, pinkish-red throats––
shining, flaming––throats like hungry mouths.
The body of one hummer could rest in a teaspoon!
The females––there were many–– were
also weaving, buzzing, feeding––the birds,
arrayed against the cliff like vibrant angels.

I found myself in a reverie, working quickly,
frantically, though not conscious of my haste,
my sketch pad in-hand or resting atop
my lap desk, the faint, busy thrum
of the humid, pollen-laden air––a stirring,
when a hummingbird, seemingly oblivious,
passed by my head.

Suddenly, from where
the leaves opened to the deepest dark, a tarantula––
large, hairy, black, no––gray, with fur tips
nearly salmon-colored, big as my fist––
here are my sketches, drawn from a flash of memory––
fairly leapt from behind a leaf
and took a male hummer in midair!
They seemed to hang, shimmering
in the dappled light––a ball
of demonic legs, salmon-tinted fur,
and the iridescent red-and-green of the doomed bird,
the near invisible flutter of wings, a pause
and then the fall––plummeting
into the tangle of darkness and vines.
I shouted, kicked at the wild understory, struck
with a brass-tipped cane
I keep against the fearsome serpents,
but was defeated by the resistant thicket
and the stout tangle of vines.
When Capitao Gonzales came to my shouts,
behind him the lovely Rosa, her servants,
I urged them back, mixing what Portuguese I have––
Batente! Stop! Por favor! And when I turned again,
the monstrous tarantula and its delicate prey,
now beyond every hope, had vanished into the dark
tangle that spread, untrammeled, along the base
of the cliff.


NOTE: The illustration is not by Heade.

The stanza at "Suddenly, from where..." is offset in the original. I can't make that work in Blogger.


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