Ava Leavell Haymon


Behind the cholla cactus, a smooth arc of sky
whitens for half an hour, a first cup of coffee.
Backlit honeybees work the fuchsia blooms.
Their baggy abdomens halo with neon fuzz.

The bees’ tenor hum calls back
an early morning dream: my teacher’s house
and two shape-shift sons. I answer
the older one’s questions. The younger one
is crying. The teacher—always
so kind!—doesn’t seem to hear.
I wander kitchen, bedroom.
I don’t know where things are.

At once—piercing the screen of bees,
cactus branches, spines, florescent petals—
a diamond laser focuses at just my eye level.
The sun disk itself, easing over Virgin Mesa.

It outlines—how could I miss this?—
a hummingbird. My hands uncurl.
In the blazing silhouette, no quick nod
just below the tiny skull, no champagne-flute
tipping of the entire bird, but instead a hinge
between neck and body, surprising
as a new knuckle in my 50 year thumb.
A bow, like ox’s neck lowered to yoke,
the likeness all out of pace and scale.

Sensei, I give you up.
You’ve walked with me here,
a child’s imaginary playmate. I’ve waited
for years to show you the mountains—hoarded
the frost heave, tamarisk, a desert bluebird.
This is one detail too many.

I wanted to be your excellent guide, offering
earnest lists of wildflowers, conifers
walking the Rockies from the boreal forest
at the top of the world, the rift in continent
that in its inexorable violence
affords the Rio Grande a valley
it did not have to carve.

The dream rises again: I carry your younger son
on my hip. Why can’t you see his loneliness?
Holding him, I find your study
and it is my father’s, the same
yellow mattress on the floor, crowded in
with the bookcases and sermons.

My eyes cannot meet the growing sun.
I look down. My hands, the broken halves
of a bowl of light. Released,
the hummingbird bends its supple neck
toward the colorless center of another flower.

Ava Leavell Haymon

was Poet Laureate of Louisiana, 2013-2015. Her poems have appeared in journals and chapbooks nationwide and in three collections from LSU Press--most recently, Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread. She won the Louisiana Literature Prize for poetry in 2003, the L.E. Phillabaum Poetry Award for 2010, and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters 2010 Award in Poetry. She teaches poetry writing in Louisiana during the school year and directs an artists and writers retreat center in New Mexico during the summer months. She is editor of the Barataria Poetry Series from LSU Press.