I was on Mandela Parkway today, walking in the central divide, and this extraordinary mural caught my eye. I always notice bees, and these bees are exquisitely painted, alive and humming beside a beautiful enigmatic signature, crowded with human faces that come and go. Sometimes, I find eyes staring out at me, mouths open and close. These, I think, are the human bees that have swarmed from the hive behind, a back-lit pyramid towards which fly the winged bees, allied insects of the Melliferous or honey gathering division of the Aculeate (or sting-bearing) Hymenoptera. In the upper right and left hand corners of the painting, words are printed:
BEE AWARE CONNECTED
Save the honey bees WORLDS
I loved this bee-thronged lotus bloom, wished it had been a bee warm afternoon, but the day was grey and cool, a wan afternoon fading into evening, dying into night. Nonetheless, standing in front of the painting, I feel as if I am flying to the light. I only hope my wings don't melt.
I thought of a poem I wrote a while back.
Before the end, bees disappear
and mosquitoes and love bugs
but gray-haired couples push
twins in three-wheeled strollers
with room to jog behind.
There are many sunny days.
No rain. But there is wind.
Then towns disappear and cows
lodge in trees stripped of leaves.
Small children dance nightly
in circles, palms locked on
naked thighs, mouse ears
pressed to crescent moons.
Birds sing past midnight.
At one a.m. meadowlarks, at three
anemic crows, by five sparrows.
Across the sea, a soldier fires his last bullet
into a bleached skull too large
to be human. The sound is immense,
greater than stars or sea waves.
Some years ago, I was driving across the country and decided to stop at Carlsbad Caverns. As I had only been to one other cave – Onandaga Cave in Missouri – I had some idea what a spectacular cave might be like, but I was ill-prepared for the magnificence and holiness I discovered within the earth at Carlsbad, 750 ft. below cactus studded ground. Rather than take the elevator, I decided to walk into the caverns along the mile-long concrete pathway that wound slowly downward to the main cavern, and I was glad for that decision. As if acting as guards, cave swallows flew anxiously about the entrance, looking much like disoriented bees removed from their hive. Their backs flashed orange as they swooped up, then down, drawing invisible nets across the mouth of the cave. I acknowledged their greeting and ignored their warnings as I walked into the dim interior of the cave, feeling as if I were entering an abandoned hive, occupied by honeyed ghosts.
The cavern was not brightly lit, but there was enough light to allow me to see both the delicate and the stalwart formations. In deep recesses, a lacework honeycomb of soda straws and tiny columns created miniature fairy kingdoms and in the great vast hall of the main cavern, huge stalagmites glowing honey gold rose majestically toward the ceiling hundreds of feet above. Along the walls cascades of “draperies,” rock folded gently as if it were fabric, and waterfalls of shiny frozen calcite acted as curtains, separating this magic world from the more mundane layers of sturdy mountain rock. I stood alone, hearing only the buzz of my own body, and felt again as if I had entered a hive, once pliable and free, now stolid and stone, yet the deeper I went into the cavern, the more protected I felt, wrapped in the embrace of a dimensional and palpable silence. I could feel the earth breathing, and every honeyed exhalation spread evenly on my skin, clearing pores and feeding bones; every inhalation pulled me to the heart of the hive. Several times, I was so overwhelmed that I could only sit and breathe.
When I finally came once again into the sun, late late in the afternoon, I was so disoriented I checked into the motel at the entrance to the park—reasonable rates—and return to the edge of the cave, my frozen hive, to wait for sunset when 300,000 bats would spiral out of the cave and fly off in all directions in search of insects. When these tiny Mexican free-tail bats, so small they curl easily into a film canister, exit the cave, they swarm and spiral like bees, wings whirring in unison, slowly gaining altitude until they finally rise above the lip of the cliff and head in various directions toward the near-by rivers. At first, like bees, they form their own river, but as these are bats, that river soon breaks into islands, and the smaller bands of bats fly off in separate directions—some going south, others west, and a few adventurers flying north. None fly east towards the dry desert. Like bees, they search fecundity.
On a dusty street, an agave blooms
with tiny clustered flowers, twenty feet
above sidewalks of ash brushed sand
littered with crumpled petals brown rosy
marked by black. Bumbles come and go.
I’m glad to see those bees. I’ve worried lately
about the absence of wasps and houseflies.
A white-ribbed sky turns and twists, a map
of delta flats at low tide where seabirds catch
the wind. Their flight and earth spin provide us rest
blue shade at the edge of empty beaches
near jungle terraces marked by restless jazz.
I sort photos of circuses and clowns.
In exchange for food, I give up speech.