Madder and indigofera

A professional visit to St Lucia, 2009

Our unexceptionally torpid meeting at the Ministry of Health on the Castries waterfront was enlivened by one of the beautiful local crested hummingbirds hovering in a blur of blue for a few moments outside the plate glass of our office on the fourth floor.

              It brought to mind the fabulous plate in Ernst Haeckel’s nineteenth-century bestseller Kunstformen der Natur, which shows about a dozen of these gorgeous creatures in the same poster-space; and then I recalled reading that hummingbirds are only ever hours away from starving to death, such are the metabolic demands placed upon them by the very rapid beating of their wings. At night they reduce their basic metabolic activities to a minimum in order to conserve energy. When I was finally able to leave the meeting inconsequential stipples of conversation flitted through my mind, much as in Paul Muldoon’s poem Hummingbird, an ornithon of gossipy phrases seemingly snatched on the wing. That was my St Lucia epiphany.


First published in The Threepenny Review, 2013