Ilhuicatl Xoxouhqui / Huītzilopōchtli: Hummingbird of the Left Side

Written By Natalie I. Contreras

The hummingbird of the left side, the heart, the energy of the east, from where the sun rises, protector of la fuerza de los jovenes guerreros.


I had never given thought of the possibility of uncovering the most significant messages of life, while my head is resting on my pillow. I find it incomprehensible that during that long stretch of time we are sleeping, our mind can project such powerful messages, those that could speak to the most inner parts of our memorias. I didn’t think that those nocturnal images, privately flashed before the eyes in our streamline of unconsciousness, could offer me as much insight as every waking moment I have lived. But, the night that I had the dream, right at the turn of a new year, something in me burst open. My mind and heart both flooded. It was with this same flood that ran from the memory of my mind, pumping the blood from my veins through to the arteries of my heart, and dripping down the canvas where my brush and paint, met together in prayer.

Last night, I stayed over my Tia’s house and talked with my cousin really late. We reminisced on our summers in the valley, on our coming of age, and about the inevitable difference of life then and now.

Mi apa came to pick my sister and I up in the early afternoon, and as I sat in the passenger seat of the car, I longed for some platica with my dad. I thought of a way to relate, and then tried to surface some conversation on the topic of dream that I had to retell.

I tried really hard to remember, having the sense and feeling that there was something of importance I had dreamed of last night. When my efforts failed me, I was desperate for some sort of commonality among us and I even considered creating a dream that I had not had. Something common along the lines of:  “I dreamt I was standing atop a cliff last night, and that I overlooked the ocean”.   Although this may as well have been a previously dreamt experience, it was still not that original sequence of a dream that I somehow knew had stirred me in my sleep. In fact, I couldn’t even truly remember what it was that I had dreamt the night before.

In mid-thought, I turned over to look at the car driving next to us on El Camino, and there, in the middle of the rearview mirror, there dangled a small ornament that caught my immediate attention.

In that moment, my heart fluttered and I was caught off guard by the overwhelming wave of emotion, the resurfacing of last night’s story into my conscious memory…

This was my dream:

I was lying in a bedroom high off the ground, some several floors above the first level. The windows were open and I observed the orange shades of sunset drip down on my skin as it illuminated the walls of my room, the light hitting the paint at the slightest angles. There, in the corner of my eye, I noticed very suddenly that I wasn’t alone. There was a very small bird whirling around outside very near to where my window was.

At this moment, I remember the feeling of excitement as I watched the tiny bird zoom around in the wind outside. Amazing, it’s so close to me, like it trusts to be so close. It doesn’t even mind how near to a human it is. I’ve never imagined being so near to such an elusive creature.  It was a magnificently colored hummingbird. I was aware of a sense of privilege at the idea that both of us living things were holding the same intimate moment in this exact space and time.  I was elated at the thought of my proximity to this fantastic creation of color, texture and life. It’s body hovering inches away from my ear, hearing the thrumming of its wings emanating energy so close to my ears. Or, was what I could hear the beating of its heart?

In an instant, as fast as the flapping wings, the bird motioned alive; a cat sprang from the floor and stretched towards it with its lethal claws. The bird’s hum spluttered to a choke, and the cat gained predatory domination over its prey. In a flash the cat had caught the hummingbird between its feline paws.

As if out of an urging instinct to protect the suddenly overpowered bird, I motioned towards the cat and ripped the hummingbird from its hold. Fearing its death from the slash of sharp claws, I watched in relief as the hummingbird’s body of feathers quickly ruffled to life. I turned and chased the cat out of the room, closing the door behind me. But it was when I returned to the windowsill that I felt a sharp pain pierce my back.

I reached my hand towards my back to search from where the sensation of pain came. I felt the warm liquid trickle down my skin, raising the hair on the back of my neck and freezing me in my steps.

Reaching for the curves of my shoulder blades, I felt for the thin beak that was lodged in my tissue and made sure not to move it any more, treating it as carefully as if it were an IV needle stuck in my veins.

I stood in shock, feeling the time it took me to register that I had been literally stabbed in the back, even when my intention of coming close to the bird had only been to protect it.  I looked down at the hands that had moments before reached for the bird, hands that were now colored by the proof of a beating heart harbored in the cavity of my chest, the stain of my own red blood…

A thrumming in my ear, soft song and wing flutter.  The emerald green feathers glistening in the light.  A cat and a chase.  The blood that trickled down my back; the crimson red that painted the tips of my fingers.  These memories rushed to front of my waking conscious thoughts in the flash of an instant and it was then that I remembered everything clearly.

Emotion washed over me like a powerful ocean wave as I turned over to look at the car driving next to us. I was struck with an urgent sense of premonition because there, in the middle of the rearview mirror, hung a small ornament that caught my immediate attention- there from a string, dangled a small blue glass hummingbird.

In Nahuatl “huītzillin” translates to “hummingbird”. “Opōchtli” means “left-hand side”.


3 responses to “Ilhuicatl Xoxouhqui / Huītzilopōchtli: Hummingbird of the Left Side

  1. This reminds me of our cat Callow & the hummingbird they said had no known enemies. Also, I remembered the hummingbirds that have come so close to feed on flowers I’m near & fearing that I’d be pierced. Oh yeah; and the time, in San Jose when I was a teen, I blew pot smoke on one & then it either peed or pooped on me.

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