and only their honey will survive

illustration by Kristina Closs of a gray and gold landscape with flowers framing a large centered golden moon that has bees within it. in the background are outlines of buildings and on the bottom half of the illustration is a honeycombed pattern that forms the terrain.
Art by Kristina Closs

Bees, Honeycombs, Honey

By Hayan Charara

Bees, thousands and thousands,
surviving in a hive
under the soffit; bees,
honeycombs, and honey,
and dampness, and old wood
sticky in the sunlight;

and the beekeeper’s hand,
carefully, and slowly,
vacuuming, and taking;
the bees tumbling, gently,
into the makeshift hive;
honeybees, and honeycombs,

and honey, glistening;
honey, the only food
that will not spoil; honey,
pulled from the pyramids,
still sticky, and sweet,
thousands of years later;

I may not believe, but
I want to; and the bees
before my eyes are now
disappearing; bees God
in the Qur’an inspired
to build homes in mountains

and trees; bees that built homes
in the trees near the grave
in Detroit; and the bees
in Jerusalem’s graves;
bees in every city,
and in every age; bees,

honey, and honeycombs,
through disaster after
disaster; bees building,
and scouting, and dancing;
bees mating, protecting,
and attacking; the bees

are now disappearing,
and dying; and the bees
the beekeeper cannot
save are dying but still
guarding the empty hive,
butting their heads against

my children, boys who will
grow to be men and build
their own homes, now dipping
fingers into honey
darkening on the ground;
they are dying; the hive

is gone; the queen is gone;
thousands and thousands, gone;
but the bees will come back,
and the hive will come back;
if not here, then elsewhere;
and there will be more bees

making more honeycombs,
more honey, and more bees;
and one day all the bees
will be gone; gone, and gone;
honeycombs, and houses,
gone; and trees, gone; oak, elm,

birch, gone; all trees, flowers,
gone; and birds, leaves, branches,
cicadas, and crickets,
grasshoppers, ants, worms, gone;
and cities, and rivers,
big cities, small cities,

big rivers, small rivers,
gardens, and homes; and homes;
the bees will be gone, and
only their honey will
survive, and we will not
be around to taste it.

from These Trees, Those Leaves, This Flower, That Fruit 


Then rise when you’re ready from your soul’s hard floor

illustration of a bee on a windowsill
Art by Kristina Closs


by Tracy K. Smith (1972-)

Submits to its own weight, 
the bulb of itself too full, 

too weak or too wise
to lift and go. 

And something blunt in me
remembers the old charade 

about putting a thing out 
of its misery. For it? For me? 

Sleep, Bee, deep and easy. 
Hive, heave, give, grieve. 

Then rise when you’re ready
from your soul’s hard floor

to sweet work 
or some war.

For us, all that’s left is kisses

From one of my favorite Russian poets, Osip Mendelstam (1891-1938). If you enjoy this one, here’s another I posted two years ago.

“Take from my palm, to sooth your heart”

Take from my palms, to soothe your heart,
a little honey, a little sun,
in obedience to Persephone’s bees.

You can’t untie a boat that was never moored,
nor hear a shadow in its furs,
nor move through thick life without fear.

For us, all that’s left is kisses
tattered as the little bees
that die when they leave the hive.

Deep in the transparent night they’re still humming,
at home in the dark wood on the mountain,
in the mint and lungwort and the past.

But lay to your heart my rough gift,
this unlovely dry necklace of dead bees
that once made a sun out of honey.”

translated from the Russian by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin