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The Theory of Flight

       for Buddy

for over an hour we watched
a hummingbird trapped

in the arch of a skylight
so close it was to life

or death or some release
from the awful thrumming

of wings too weak to fall
back into place after each

attempt to reach the sky—
my neighbors and I each battling

what could separate us from
the quirks that too quickly

snuff lives have gathered to free
the bird from the delicate trap

of light and man-made sky—
we seem clumsy too eager

to hold onto the fragile
space we think we inhabit

we dare not question how each
of us knows life is a mere balance

of light and the absence of light—
and how in our cages of skin

we wish we could beat
our way heavenward while

air traps us all on solid
ground while the sky above

ever changes its direction—
we watch as the bird exhausted

falters but never stops and we think
of how our bodies have faltered

skin turning back to wrinkled cells
barely recognizable to those

who tend us—and in those moments
how easy it seems to be no greater

no less than a hummingbird
and fly at eighty beats per second

toward a sky real or not where
nothing flowers nothing soothes the air

Colleen J. McElroy

Here I Throw Down My Heart
University of Pittsburgh Press

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