On the Sorrow of Apiary Thieves

by Sally Wen Mao

Bee farmers warn: the good honey’s gone.
All of it’s been harvested. What’s left
is chaff, summer’s dead

matter. Give up, intruders, cry the guards
this season, the bees won’t wake, and the honey
of their sleep is noxious.

It is said that when bees can’t migrate,
they hibernate in a dragnet of bodies
around the queen, rotating outward

for warmth so no one dies. But somewhere
in the outskirts, a worker bee might fall
into a coma, envision a lighthouse

of nectar, viscid daisies trapped in royal
jelly. She must’ve dreamt this, drifting farther
from the nucleus of spit-warmth

and swaying. There is no place for dreamers
like her in a complex system: metropole
of honeyless apiary, its deadbeat

machinery. I can’t explain my trespassing
with something simple, like the yen for honey,
or humectants for a lady’s quondam

queendom. The hive breathes all the wishes
I don’t have. Empty haven, lantern of viands—
I almost miss the way the skylights

once chased my shadow across topiaries,
each footprint striating the damp loam
along the knoll, toward the bees,

what quiet, what hum. This time, I take only
the bees that don’t thaw, frozen and harmless,
their home on the ground.

Sally Wen Mao teaches writing at Cornell University. Her first manuscript was a finalist for Tupelo’s 1st/2nd Book Prize and the Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry. Recent work can be found in Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West, and West Branch, among others.