Jean Toomer lived in Washington, D.C., but “Beehive” could be about any city, and for me it’s Manhattan. I live in Red Hook, so from the window I can see Lower Manhattan across the river. It’s massive and always in motion. At night, the buildings and the cars on the FDR look crystalline. They are all bodies busy with their duties and delights, like “bees passing in and out the moon.” I like that Toomer is also alert to the solitude and melancholy of being merely one among millions.
Within this black hive tonight
There swarm a million bees;
Bees passing in and out the moon,
Bees escaping out the moon,
Bees returning through the moon,
Silver bees intently buzzing,
Silver honey dripping from the swarm of bees
Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb,
And I, a drone,
Lying on my back,
Getting drunk with silver honey,
Wish that I might fly out past the moon
And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.