219. Paints

NEST, ONE INCH AND HALF–James
Practicing his signs–“Just
That big, Barker!”–
James held up thumb and finger,
With the card.
                    Barker: THIMBLE-NEST,
                    FOR HUMMINGBIRD.
BLENDS–“perfectly–what’s–”
                    Barker showed the sign.
James: BLENDS PERFECT WITH
BRANCH. EGGS,
TWO. VERY-SMALL.
                    THOSE TWO EGGS–
                    I’D PAY DIMES TO SEE THEM.
                    TRADE MARBLES MY,
                    OR PINS.
James nodding: ME TOO.
“‘Bird, metallic green’–
No, I’ll never learn ‘metallic’!”
                    Barker grinned.
WHITE BREAST,
“‘Ruby throat.'”
James sighed.

                    SEE WHAT I HAVE I.
                    YOU SEE–SURPRISE!
                    Barker’s hand came from his pocket.
                    Two squares: water-colors,
                    Red and green.
“Barker!” THOSE
YOU STOLE FROM SCHOOL.
                    Barker shrugged.
                    THEM WE WILL BRING BACK–
                    CHANGED TO PICTURES!
DAD MY SAYS STEALING WRONG.
                    WHICH WORTH MORE?
                    PAINT?–
                    OR PICTURE?
James considered.
PICTURE, HAPPEN IT LOOK GOOD.
                    YOU HAVE PAPER?

They mixed their spit in
With the colored wafers, using
Fuzzy heads of dried grass
As a brush.
First, the hummingbird–
Its long beak they stretched
Longer. Its eye, a gleaming
Dot. Claw, scrawny twig.
The green, they stroked in
Mass with tiny motions. And
The vibrant ruby throat,
Bright clot of red.
They smeared the wings,
To make them blur–
HOW IT STAYS FLYING.
For good luck, then,
James painted round it
Names of other birds
That pleased his ear:
Bee Martin, Chimney Swift.
Flicker, Goldfinch, Grackle.
Nuthatch, Chewink, Junco,
Towhee. Owl.
Barker laced the letters
With small eggs.

                    GIVE ME PAPER.
                    STORY. LISTEN?
James handed him a scrap.
                    Barker wrote:
                    “Down the coast,
                    my mother use to live there.
                    Corpus Christi, Galveston–
                    youve heard of them?
                    This is a true story.
                    One winter there they had
                    a never-happen frost.
                    A bad one, too, that bit
                    leaves down from trees,
                    killed all the fruit.
                    The flowers, grass, turned
                    white. My Mama and her
                    Brother–they’re kids then,
                    can you guess
                    what they found?
                    Two Hummingbirds, just
                    lying on the ground!–
                    Froze still and hard! And
                    cold as two green stones.
                    Well, they put them
                    in their coats, and took them
                    home. They carried them
                    inside to see them close.
                    But then they left them there,
                    right by the fire.
                    They went outside to play.
                    And when they come back in–
                    they look up, and both birds,
                    they fly! Happy
                    as you please!
                    And this is true,
                    I promise.”

James studied Barker’s face.
A clever joke?
But Barker didn’t laugh.
The story, anyhow,
Appealed to James.
“Barker”–not to be outdone–
“How come, you think,
The hummingbird
To hum?”
                    WHAT?
“I said,” said James,
Eyes dancing with his riddle,
“How come hummingbirds
To hum?”

                    Barker, sly:
                    BECAUSE–
“‘Cause they don’t know the words!”

James collapsed with laughter.
Barker smiled.

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