Organic Poetry

Poetry Column by Jeffrey Shotts, HPC Member

At this time of the year, as the summer is ripe and so are the fields, and the fruits of those fields are brought in, where does that bounty come from? Who or what is responsible for that sustenance, that harvest?

The answer is: bees.

Here is a poem by Nick Flynn from his terrific sequence about bees — often in the voice of the bees themselves — in his book titled Blind Huber:


Net suit & smoking cup, you reek fear.
If we fight back, or if there isn’t

enough, you seek me out with gloved fingers
to crush my head. When we sting

you scream. We know why

you carry our white boxes
to the edge of the alfalfa, to the figs

& raspberries. You take our honey
because we let you. We pollinate the fields

because we are the fields.

This poem shows — even though the bees live in the human-made white boxes — our dependence on the bees, the natural world, rather than the other way around. You’re not doing us any favors, the Queen seems to say; in fact, she says, you need us utterly.

Everyone has a story about bees. They fascinate, they frighten, they sustain us. In the towering mosques on either side of the Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, I was surprised to find huge stalactite hives in the archways, teeming with bees. I remember, as a child, climbing a post used to suspend a clothesline and suddenly being stung at the tip of my nose by a guardian bee protecting a hive built inside the post I was, bear-like, climbing.

Here's Flynn's story of an entire house overwhelmed by bees:


What would you do inside me?

You would be utterly
lost, labyrinthine

comb, each corridor identical, a
funhouse, there, a bridge, worker

knit to worker, a span
you can’t cross. On the other side

the queen, a fortune of honey.

Once we filled an entire house with it,
built the comb between floorboard

& joist, slowly at first, the constant

buzz kept the owners awake, then
louder, until honey began to seep

from the walls, swell
the doorframes. Our gift.

They had to burn the house down
to rid us.

“Queen” and “Hive” by Nick Flynn from Blind Huber, published by Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 2002.