Issue 159, Fall 2001
I read about their hive in a beekeeping book,
the 1916 fire near a lumber pile where
they fanned their wings furiously,
cooling the honey, the melting combs,
at the hive's wide entrance. The boards
above them charred; inside they waited
for relief—a fireman came not long
thereafter, dousing them with cool water.
All survived—newly rubbed
by the balm of their efforts, balm
they rolled into sweet balls of gold.
It softened their bodies and carried them
safely across water and aster.
In admiration, I've dreamed of these bees,
many generations past, willing them
to me now—an Italian queen sent for.
Many arrive with their wings frayed
so they remain in this mail-order hive,
reconciled to me as their new keeper
and giver of powdered sugar.
In return, they travel through
history books, children's stories
and factories across town, the windows open
just wide enough for a bee to pass.
When bees have the swarming fever they are gorged with honey
and in a feverish state, and require more than an ordinary
amount of air. Their breathing tubes are in different parts of
the body, under the wings and on each side of the abdomen,
hence, as soon as the entrance is closed, and they crowd about
it, the heat of so many becomes suffocating in a few minutes.
Their honey is involuntarily discharged from the mouth, wetting
themselves and their companions, thus effectively closing their
breathing tubes in a way that causes death to ensue very quickly.