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Archilochus Colubris, First Sighting

By Bonnie J. Rough

They are so young, so much younger than I am now. My father with his trousers hugging his bottom—it’s 1978, and he’s 25 years old. My mother with her honey-long hair. The little yellow cabin, blackberried, with a small lawn over a scrubby cliff and a scale of beach stairs. The afternoon sun blazes but the air is forest-cool. It is July and the mudflats smell of geoduck, of kelp-wrapped moonsnail. I am a bundle in my mother’s slender arms. We have just come from the hospital, 20 miles away. She carries me through the side door and makes two turns. My parents stand together in front of the picture window, facing the slack-tide sound, and my mother holds me up, invites me to look out. “This is where you’re going to live,” she tells me. And up come the ruby-throated hummingbirds: four, and then a fifth. They swarm the glass, their paths crossing and looping: a thatch of flight. My parents gasp, both of them eyes-wide in thrall. For the first time since my birth, they forget about me. They watch the birds swirling until my father chuckles and my mother comes to. They stare at one another. “It’s God,” my mother says, turning her eyes to me. “A blessing.”

So began their parenthood, the work of naming the world.

I like to think I saw the hummingbirds and took them in exactly as they were: flesh, blood and feather; thrum; glance of color crimson and emerald; nothing in time before or after their blur; no word I could possibly give them.


Bonnie J. Rough lives in Minneapolis, where she teaches at The Loft Literary Center. Her nonfiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from assorted journals and anthologies including The Sun, The Iowa Review, Ninth Letter, MODERN LOVE: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit, and Devotion (Three Rivers Press), The Best Creative Nonfiction (W.W. Norton), and The Best American Science and Nature Writing (Houghton Mifflin).

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