Humminbird, illustration by Melissa Castrillón, from Leaning Toward Light

One Poem by Robert Hass

from Leaning Toward Light

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A hummingbird lights on a woody stem of the cantua,
perches there stilled and looks around. An Anna’s,
the feathers on its neck catching the light
as it moves its head in the jerky motions
of a movie dinosaur and tilts its beak toward the sky,
the gesture of humans who think well of themselves,
though I think the bird might be thinking about ants
or small spiders. Or maybe it is just taking the air.
It’s late June. The morning had been foggy, marine mist
blowing in from the Pacific in billowing gusts,
so it is only now in the early evening that the fog
has burned off and the summer air settled in.
Maybe the bird is watching whatever interests it
in the same way that I am watching the bird.
The flowers of the cantua withered weeks ago,
the cascade of scarlet trumpets that seem to have been made
for hummingbirds (which means that they were made
by hummingbirds) dangle down in small, shriveled clusters.
The white flowers of the climbing rose have also withered.
Floribunda: the creamy blossoms so abundant on the trellis
I didn’t like to cut bunches of them to take inside,
though I knew, of course, that they die one way
or the other, in the house or on the vine. The hydrangea
has only just begun to blossom, the clusters
of their flowers a white tinged faintly with pale green.
Also the fuchsia with its slim, graceful, pale pink flowers
is just beginning to bloom. There are clocks in seeds,
the one that turned off the cantua and the one
that turned on the hydrangea. And the hummingbird’s heart
is a clock. Mine, too. When I look up from registering this fact,
it is gone. Probably working the nectar in the fuchsias,
wings beating so rapidly they almost seem not to be there.



Leaning Toward Light: Poems for Gardens and the Hands That Tend Them, edited by Tess TaylorThis poem is excerpted from Leaning Toward Light: Poems for Gardens and the Hands That Tend Them (Storey Publishing, 2023), edited by Tess Taylor, a beautiful poetry anthology offering a warm, inviting selection of poems from a wide range of voices that speak to the collective urge to grow, tend, and heal—an evocative celebration of our connection to the green world.

This is the first of five poems from the anthology reprinted in over the first week of September 2023. As an introduction to the poems, read Tess Taylor’s “Poems and Gardens as Kind Companions”.

This poem is reprinted by permission of the editor and publisher.


Robert HassRobert Hass is retired from the English department at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is Summer Snow: New Poems (Ecco/HarperCollins).

Header image by Melissa Castrillón, from Leaning Toward Light. Photo of Robert Hass by Margaretta K. Mitchell. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.