For Wang Dalin, who wore 52 pounds of bees

by H.R. Webster

The queen silver
Caged around your throat.
You whisper to her before
Stepping onto the scale.
Say: “I am the bride
And you my handmaiden.”
Say: “Bring me my veil.”
Then shake her gently until
She cries.

It was a year of devastation and blossoms
On the piedmont. The mares were sickly
And the summer squash cracked
Hollow under the weight of leaves
And beetle-burrowed blooms. The beebread
Rotted in the combs. The swarm gathered
Too late in the season. The Beekeeper followed.
The boys’ rhythm-tithed skin
On the cab rust in their beating
Onward, onward from the truck bed
As the swarm swept west
To the hay field.

I was left in the garden
Quivering my mouth
Open the bees pouring in.

In preparation you
Must wear shorts that hug the skin
The bees will enter you.
Must wear goggles over the eyes.
To close them is not enough.
The bees will enter you.
Must wear plugs in nose and ears.
The bees will enter you there, too.
Must press your lips together.
It is not enough, they want what is within.

The Beekeeper taught me
First: do not fear the bees.
Pulled me into the cedars
Behind the hive lifted
Me and pressed
My ear to the hot tin roof
Of the super. Held me there
So I could listen to them move
Against each other.
Later I knelt
To gather leaves for smoke.
The drowsing choke of bodies
Was the earliest loneliness,
Veil still of air.

Dearest Bee-Wearer,
Is it possible to remain unmoving
Under their search and shudder?
To be without breath? Become the
Mass of eyes?

They are your breath, be still.
Hold your arms from your
Body. Veil yourself in
The dark living heat.

The weight tallied,
A gloved woman comes
In white. Her hand reaches
Inside your chest
To lift the silver chain.
The queen, withered
With her spent desire
Is lifted from your chest.
The bees are pulled
From you in handfuls.
This is when they begin
To sting. 


Originally published in Devils Lake (December 2015).