The University of Minnesota Press has published a fine collection of bee poems, If Bees are Few. Here’s one by one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, who lives in San Antonio. Her most recent book is Famous from Wings Press. —Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate 2004-2006.
Bees Were Better
In college, people were always breaking up.
We broke up in parking lots,
Two people broke up
across a table from me
at the library.
I could not sit at that table again
though I did not know them.
I studied bees, who were able
to convey messages through dancing
and could find their ways
home to their hives
even if someone put up a blockade of sheets
and boards and wire.
Bees had radar in their wings and brains
that humans could barely understand.
I wrote a paper proclaiming
their brilliance and superiority
and revised it at a small café
featuring wooden hive-shaped honey-dippers
in silver honeypots
at every table.
by Wendell Berry
If you are not to become a monster,
you must care what they think.
If you care what they think,
how will you not hate them,
and so become a monster
of the opposite kind? From where then
is love to come—love for your enemy
that is the way of liberty?
From forgiveness. Forgiven, they go
free of you, and you of them;
they are to you as sunlight
on a green branch. You must not
think of them again, except
as monsters like yourself,
pitiable because unforgiving.
by Ted Kooser
I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,
and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife
while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife and her fork in their proper places,
then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.
After my father unhooded it, lugged it down
the steep path to the boat and clamped it on,
drew back the cord again and again like a pitch
about to be thrown, grimacing with each
whining refusal, and muttered, finally said
She doesn’t want to start, after it always did,
and we shoved away from the pier, rowed out of the dense
tangle of weeds and lily pads, not once
did our resting oars uncross their feet,
not even as we entered the shallow inlet
between our lake and the next, just purring through
the reeds in that narrow passage, over the billow
of silt, the rocks, never getting stuck before
we flew through the waves, his hand guiding the tiller.
One among the shifting mass
of humanity intent
on countless destinations,
one hungry stomach
and dry mouth among many,
one brain dazed
by the speed and altitude
of flights unnatural
to any animal, by herding,
followed by waiting
succeeded by rushing,
and more flight
to any body contained
in this seemingly unwieldy
mass of metal lifting
improbably over Chicago,
where a misty orange aura
hovers over the city’s
brighter lights, as if
its soul sought ascension
it could only attempt,
as if the aura
might break free
and follow us,
wherever we might fly,
wheresoever we may rest—
one with the multitude
of humans en route