Telephoning in Mexican Sunlight, by GALWAY KINNELL


Talking with my beloved in New York

I stood at the outdoor public telephone

in Mexican sunlight, in my purple shirt.

Someone had called it a man/woman

shirt. The phrase irked me. But

then I remembered that Rainer Maria

Rilke, who until he was seven wore

dresses and had long yellow hair,

wrote that the girl he almost was

made her bed in his ear and slept him the world.

I thought, OK this shirt will clothe the other

in me.

As we fell into long-distance love talk

a squeaky chittering started up all around,

and every few seconds came a sudden loud

buzzing. I half expected to find

the insulation on the telephone line

laid open under the pressure of our talk

leaking low-frequency noises.

But a few yards away a dozen hummingbirds,

gorgets going drab or blazing

according as the sun struck them,

stood on their tail rudders in a circle

around my head, transfixed

by the flower-likeness of the shirt.

And perhaps also by a flush rising into my face,

for a word--one with a thick sound,

as if a porous vowel had sat soaking up

saliva while waiting to get spoken,

possibly the name of some flower

that hummingbirds love, perhaps

“honeysuckle” or “hollyhock”

or “phlox”--just then shocked me

with its suddenness, and this time

apparently did burst the insulation,

letting the word sound in the open

where all could hear, for these tiny, irascible,

nectar-addicted puritans jumped back,

all at once, fast, as if the air gasped.

From “Imperfect Thirst” by Galway Kinnell. (Houghton Mifflin: $19.95; 83 pp.) 1994 Reprinted by permission.