Hummingbird War

Winter decided to stop dicking around last week and finally lowered its full weight upon us. Well before sun-up, I headed out from the warm cacophony of the break room full of black men shouting and laughing into the cold dark of the yard. Collectors and drivers move out from under the lone street light by the single story cinderblock structure, gettin' it toward the beeping, blinking red and yellow carnival that is the city's trash trucks moving out each morning. Me and the other groundsmen of Bulk and Brush stalk past them, under the i-beam frame of some abandoned structure, out to the tall line of boom trucks parked behind the towering cone of the salt barn. I usually stretch out, pulling my back loose off a concrete divider that the others mostly lean on, but last week we all stood in there, hands in pockets, heads under hoods like seagulls bracing in the wind, waiting for the drivers to do their pre-check and for the trucks to warm up.

After a month of wondering, I finally looked up the star I always see just above the sunrise, the one bright enough to make me nervous whenever I notice it. I showed it to Ruth one night and she thought it was an asteroid come to obliterate all life on our planet. It’s the morning star Venus, of course; bright enough to cast shadows, brightest in the morning before dawn. All of which I already knew, just never experienced first hand, with the sweet oil-smell of diesel in the air and trucks roaring all around. At that time of day, before dawn has had a chance to break open, it is the cruelest looking thing in the sky. In that coldest hour, when I don’t feel like to talking to anybody anyway, with the yellow of the hazards blinking and the amber of the rotating caution lights arcing across the yard, before I’ve had any breakfast, before I have the chance to get my attitude right, it’s Venus that makes my brain goes everywhere it shouldn’t. The heat pump back at the house and whether or not I’ll make the bill this month. The bodies of Union soldiers at Cold Harbor shot so full of lead they fell apart mid-run. The terrible precision of hummingbirds making war, upside down, in the air. In the dark there, in the morning, I feel I am tumbling just like they do.