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James Hoch is the author of two poetry collections: Miscreants (W. W. Norton, 2008) and A Parade of Hands (Silverfish Review Press, 2003). He is a professor of creative writing at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Elegy with Icarus and the Heart of a Hummingbird

Someone must’ve gone fetched him out,
towed the drowned, wing-wrecked bird
through a slick of his own feathery want,
though, more likely, he passed out
from knowing, and the falling distance
made the surface turn hard to his body.
It must’ve mattered to his father, who,
winged himself, had to watch fishermen
circle his son, like figures in a painting,
pondering as if there were meaning in water.
Is this any way to treat the ones who flee
and wash ashore, prodding their bodies
with toe, stick, a disbelieving finger?
This morning, walking along the road,
I found a hummingbird against the curb,
marveled at the glasswork of its stillness,
how the light was falling too, so I could
see shifting green and blue, the tiny cage,
the dark needle of its bill, the dark eyes
the ants will carry away. I can’t say
if it died from wanting too much
or from finding what it wanted too much.
Surely, Icarus had the heart of a hummingbird.
If they revived him, would he have risen
back into the sky, damaged wiser,
or, bratty, simply blamed his crap wings?
I nudged the bird with my shoe, not expecting,
but half wishing, a startling burst
through our myth-brightened world.
But the boy who ODed in a Porta-Potty,
was no bird at all. When his father found him,
his sun-jonesing heart large from hovering,
his friends—junk-caked, booze-skanked
themselves—turned away, puked in a ditch,
praying he’d break the surface of his misery.
Even outside the funeral home, dark coats
blocks long, dragging in suits they last wore
at graduation, for some sliver of rachis
and vane jutting out where wings might be,
they do not want to die, they only want
to feel less, less this. The way we, too,
standing in a line of pity and scorn, curse
all this away, we who love those
who love the air, the sudden lift and veer.

Copyright © 2017 James Hoch. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017

Copyright © 2017 James Hoch. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017

James Hoch

James Hoch is the author of two poetry collections: Miscreants (W. W. Norton, 2008) and A Parade of Hands (Silverfish Review Press, 2003). He is a professor of creative writing at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

by this poet

poem
One must admire the desperate way 
                it flings
itself through air amid winter’s slow 
                paralysis, 

and clings to shriveled fruit, dropped
                Coke bottle, 
any sugary residue, any unctuous
                carcass,  

and slug-drunk grows stiff, its joints