It is spring and we await our first hummingbird here at the Fat Finch. Hummingbirds, according to the Aztecs, were the reincarnated souls of dead Aztec warriors. There was a time, about a century ago, when many humans believed in transmigration of souls into animals. The American writer Don Marquis used his fictional cockroach Archy to poke a little fun at the belief. Archy was a cockroach that lived in the newsroom at the New York Sun newspaper where Marquis worked. Archy had been a human who wrote free verse and, when he died, transmigrated into the body of cockroach as punishment. He communicates by throwing himself bodily on the keys of Mr. Marquis’s typewriter. He can’t capitalize anything because of the necessity of holding down the shift key on the typewriter at the same time striking the key of the letter to be capitalized. Nor did he waste energy or time attempting punctuation.
Marquis wrote during Prohibition, that time long ago when alcoholic beverages were banned in the United States. It was also a time of wide-spread belief in ghosts and spiritualism.
But some things haven’t changed in the intervening century: We still love hummingbirds, even if fewer of us believe in ghosts. Here from his poem entitled “ghosts”
you want to know
whether i believe in ghosts
of course i do not believe in them
if you had known as many of them as i have
you would not
believe in them either
perhaps i have been
unfortunate in my acquaintance
but the ones i have known
have been a bad lot
no one could believe in them
after being acquainted with them
a short time . . . .
i remember talking to one of them
who had just worked his way
upward again he had been in the
body of a flea and he was going
into a cat fish
you would think he might be
grateful for the promotion
but not he
i do not call this much of an advance
he said why could i not
be a humming bird or something
kid i told him it will
take you a million years to work your
way up to a humming bird . . . .
Archy was not so ambitious as to try for a hummingbird. He was content with something less exalted:
personally my ambition is to get
my time as a cockroach shortened for
good behavior and be promoted
to a revenue officer
it is not much of a step up but
i am humble . . . .
The revenue officer Archy refers to is not the tax man but the revenue officer who spent his days and nights trying to eradicate boot-legged liquor in those far off days when the government tried to protect us from our vices.
Working our way up to hummingbirds, we’ve put out our feeders. Some Broad-tails have been seen on the outskirts of our city and we’re ready for our first visitors. They’ll arrive any day now. The seasons here march along; the Sandhill Cranes replaced by hummingbirds until autumn, when the cranes fill the void left by departing hummingbirds, the skies bringing year-round joy.