Cathexis Northwest Press
I Learn My Ute Name’s Wah-Ah; Fly Fishing for Hummingbirds
By: Dick Altman
I Learn My Ute Name’s Wah-Ah
You a runner?
my Ute guide asks.
Does it show? I reply,
the first words between us.
We’re both sinewy,
just under six feet.
He, it turns out,
is an ex-point
guard with wings.
In his prime,
black ponytail whirling
like a prop,
he turns three-sixties
soaring to the rim.
I’m an ex-lacrosse goalie,
who ties a record
for saves in a game
long ago in Canada.
Fragile badge at best,
since we lost badly.
We laugh that he excels
at leaping points in,
and I at keeping
We excavate two lives,
as we drive for hours
up a boulder-strewn
mule path overlooking
the Mancos river.
He, I discover, is the true
striver/survivor amid us,
teaching others to kick
the drug life that nearly
claimed his. Nothing
in my story comes close.
We arrive at ruins
eight centuries old.
A race to the cliff-top,
athletes we were
Then the heat hits.
to walk up instead,
we piss together
in the rushes.
I learn my Ute name
It feels like a christening.
Fly Fishing for Hummingbirds
A moment that wasn’t supposed to happen –
on the bank of a river renown for its trout –
as both guide and fisherwoman paused –
and he held her rod as she loosened her
waders – while a jewel of a wooly bugger
she tied the night before – swung lazily
in the afternoon breeze – the sun –
she recalls – giving the fly the aura
of a tiny flower – a nectarous blossom
that drew instantly the thirsty tongue
of a passing hummingbird – who –
on taking the tiny hook into its beak –
abruptly stopped flying – released
the hook – as gravity plopped it
into the water – and whose almost-lighter-
than-air wings kept it afloat – until
the guide cupped his hands gently under
the thumb-size body – now water logged –
and likely in shock – and lifted it as if
an offering to Helios – Greek sun god
himself – who responded in kind –
by infusing – and reviving – the hummer
with its palpable heat – the wings casting
over guide and fly fisher – as though a gift
from the gods – a fine spray of diamonds –
before rising into the sky – and bolting
down river – but not before bowing
in mid-air – or so it seemed – to its
riverine knights – who will retell –
till the end of their days – the story
of the little one. . .that got away
Dick Altman writes in the high, thin, magical air of Santa Fe, NM, where, at 7,000 feet, reality and imagination often blur. He is published in Santa Fe Literary Review, American Journal of Poetry, riverSedge, Fredericksburg Literary Review, Foliate Oak, Blue Line, THE Magazine, Humana obscura, , The Offbeat, Haunted Waters Press, Split Rock Review, The RavensPerch, Beyond Words, New Verse News, Sky Island Journal and others here and abroad. A poetry winner of Santa Fe New Mexican’s annual literary competition, he has in progress two collections of some 100 published poems. His work has been selected for the forthcoming first volume of The New Mexico Anthology of Poetry, to be published by the New Mexico Museum Press.
"I Learn My Ute Name’s Wah-Ah:
Though you could say I live in Indian country, rare it would be to have a few hours of casual, much less intimate, conversation with someone who could trace his tribal ancestry going back hundreds of years.
You can’t explore this area of Ute land without a Ute guide. Judging from the mesa landscape we four-wheel in the morning, bushwhacking all the way, I don’t think you’d want to. The road is more footpath than road—very slow, very—shall we say—conversational.
And converse we did. After a few minutes, it felt like I was catching up with an old friend I’d not seen in a long time. The ruins we visited were like opening a book to another world. But in the end, it was the book of our lives, the weaving of our stories, that I’ll remember most of all.
Fly Fishing for Hummingbirds:
Seven or eight years ago, a hummingbird crashed into its image mirrored in a living room window. It
wasn’t moving when I picked it up. A few days before, as fate would have it, Audubon Magazine told how to revive a bird in shock. I followed the directions to the letter. It revived and became the centerpiece of a poem called How to Lazarus a Hummingbird—a moment I will never forget.
Fast forward to the present. My wife’s an avid fly fisherwoman and an artist of a fly tier. She was fishing with a guide on the Conejos, one of southern Colorado’s premiere trout streams. That a hummingbird would take into its beak one of her flies is a rarity beyond belief. That her guide, on instinct, raises the unconscious hummer to the sun. That the heat resuscitates it— well, how could I not turn the incident into a poem? Yet again."