Worrying the Bees

A red welt blossoms as memory—
only it’s not memory, not exactly.

What I call memory is merely an image
ringed with potential, unverified:

a purple clover in a field of grass,
bee-stung, or the possibility of pain.

The mind learns to spread white lies,
and tethers second-hand stories

to the particulars of pain and poison.
Honeysuckle. Chokeberry.

Years later I watch a fat bumblebee
lolling the head of a purple clover.

We both steal nectar sips; I pluck a petal
and pierce it with my small, white teeth.

I keep thinking the memory is bee,
but in fact it is bee-sting. I trust myself less.

Later still I step on a ground wasps’ nest
and make no sound. I hear them waking:

tuneless static crowds the open airwaves.
I accept the landmine as if stillness

could delay the swarm, and it does.
The understanding of pain is not pain itself:

a flesh memory forms for a moment
that never was. Electric comprehension.

I step off the mine and the wasps burrow
into the tender arch of my foot,

quiver beneath my translucent skin,
each one a splinter vibrating with purpose.

In a poem made of wax, we wait
for a clear tessellation of metaphor,

but I keep coming back to amnesia
and whether loss might be a kind of solace.

I rest in the language of honey and hive;
I listen, again, for the queen’s long piping.

Jessa Heath earned her M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. She is a recipient of the Karen Jackson Ford Poetry Prize, an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, and an M.F.A. Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She currently teaches writing at New England College and lives on a mountain in rural New Hampshire.