Wild Bees 

Often in summer, on a tarred bridge plank standing, 
Or downstream between willows, a safe Ophelia drifting 
In a rented boat - I had seen them comes and go, 
Those wild bees, swift as tigers, their gauze wings a-glitter 
In passionless industry, clustering black at the crevice 
Of a rotten cabbage tree, where their hive was hidden low 

But never strolled too near. Till one half-cloudy evening 
Of ripe January, my friends and I 
Came, gloved and masked to the eyes like plundering desperadoes, 
To smoke them out. Quiet beside the stagnant river 
We trod wet grasses down, hearing the crickets chitter 
And waiting for light to drain from the wounded sky. 

Before we reached the hive their sentries saw us 
And sprang invisible through the darkening air. 
Stabbed, and died in stinging. The hive woke. Poisonous fuming 
Of sulphur filled the hollow trunk, and crawling 
Blue flames sputtered - yet still their suicidal 
Live raiders dived and clung to our hands and hair. 

O it was Carthage under the Roman torches, 
Or loud with flames and falling timber, Troy! 
A job well botched. Half of the honey melted 
And half the rest young grubs. Through earth-black smoldering ashes 
And maimed bee groaning, we drew our plunder. 
Little enough their gold, and slight our joy. 

Fallen then the city of instinctive wisdom. 
Tragedy is written distinct and small: 
A hive burned on a cool night in summer. 
But loss is a precious stone to me, a nectar 
Distilled in time, preaching the truth of winter 
To the fallen heart that does not cease to fall.


~ James K Baxter