Once, You Were Asked to Count the Hummingbirds by Joel Hans
And now you should say goodbye to the ones you love. Loop a pair of clouded binoculars around your neck. Pack a peanut butter sandwich and a rusty apple and a bottomless bottle of water. Interlace the suburbs and their feeders in search of stale sugar. Exit for the empty desert. Peer into the eyes of agave. Eye pink detonations of the fairy-duster bushes. Add to the tally for every hummingbird you see, one two three four. Close out your clusters with a slash. Miss your people. Know it’s okay to miss them. Tally a hundred, a thousand, a million hummingbirds. Buzz up a mountain. Beam down every arroyo. Watch for the iridescent throats of the hummingbirds you’re meant to tally, which have no match in this desert except the eyes of those you love, how much like windows or wormholes. Find a hummingbird that has died. Erase one from your tally. Pick the poor thing up and roll it around in the tips of your silvery hands. Inter it within an impenetrable bosom of cholla. Keep hovering. Keep tallying. Befriend the chuparosa with their vaselike flowers. Thirst for the honeysuckle, the simple joy of sugar, then bring the tips of your fingers together and apart until they become wings, scratch one more to your ledger with the length of your beak. Come back to the people you love every now and then. Flash them your gorgeted and now fading throat. Let them forget, for a moment, the humming in their hearts they’ve forgotten was once you.
Joel Hans has published fiction in Story, West Branch, No Tokens, The Journal, Booth, and others. He edits Astrolabe, a literary journal in the form of a dynamic universe, and holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. He lives in Tucson, Arizona with his family, and can be found online at joelhans.com.