Justine el-Khazen, Hummingbird Effect

The cleft of your heart suddenly
after seeing it so many times,
a rusty twinge, ancient amphora
that holds the sacred mystery
of your life, the whole and heavy
brick of it moving to the left a little,
away from the midline where your aorta
and vena cava twine around the rungs
of your spine, steadying you, again,
parts of you you can’t feel but know
are there, sea fans of your kidneys
splayed to the left and right, deep weed
of solar plexus, blood vessels forked
like dreamy rivers, spiraling down
your legs, arms, tangled as they climb
into your head, a single burning anvil
of thoughts, feelings, oxygen bursting
in every sparkly cell as your brain unwinds
this wandering sentence, all of you intact
but strange somehow, awake to your
vulnerability, your powerlessness,
as you watch this video you’ve seen
countless times, again.


Remember wanting the commas on this page to feel something? Rows of them like dusty
birds lining wires, fire escapes, cornices, and nails flush with the swirling grain of your
wooden desk. Remember wanting them to tremble with awareness, to be able to know
and mourn the story they’re telling? They hold a place for your breath, but you wanted
them to make a place for his, to somehow pause the action, roll him onto his back and fill
the pale balloons of his lungs with life, red beads of oxygen flooding his heart, brain, you
wanted them to help him up, help him stumble away even, shaking his head in disbelief at
how close he’d come to dying. But he can’t get up and all these commas can do is help you
delay saying that. If the metaphor of stars in your veins, in his, their chalky mix older than
any power you could dream, were enough, if the glimmer of a hummingbird were enough,
if his image, his memory, if the thousands rippling the frozen bridge, twisted ghosts of
their breath under the surveillance beams of helicopters, were enough, millions spilling
from circles and squares into avenues that know and remember them and their dream of
making the world safer, freer and more just, were enough, if the solidarity protests, die-ins
in London, Chicago, Oakland were enough, if the purpose you share because of him were
enough… But it isn’t, is it? Which is why you can’t look away as the liquid crystals of your
computer’s display fire with the dull light of an overcast summer day, again.

The part of you that does feel, that you don’t need to be reminded exists is your memory, the
streak of a comet trailing shimmering afterimages where this is encoded and heart shock of
its retrieval, cold intensity of the muscle clenching, a tiny cleavage both metaphorical and
real when he says he still can’t breathe and you know now you and everyone have stopped
breathing too just to listen to him one more time, the gravel in his voice like heartache.