Mortuary Bee You spend your short life moving from job to job Serving the hive, keeping it immaculate, keeping order. You begin By cleaning the very hive cell in which you were born, tending, and scrubbing away all traces of your birth. You move To nursing the young. You check the larvae, and feed them royal jelly from the hypopharyngeal gland in your head. You attend to the drones and lovingly care for the Queen, feeding her, cleaning her, and removing her waste. You carefully spread her pheromones throughout the hive, signaling that she is healthy. You become A fixer, repairing cells of the honeycomb, arranging beeswax. You create wax scales from glands on your abdomen, chewing small pieces and molding them into hexagonal cells. As you fly, as you age, these wax glands start to atrophy. You move on. Now mature, you forage. Flying in search of resources for the hive, you look for pollen, nectar, propolis, and water. Such danger gliding into the wild, the world. You are afraid, but you push yourself. You soar. And oh, what unfolds before you: the coneflower, the dahlias, the flox and roses. Such sweet smells and dizzying petals. The sounds of birds and frogs and dogs barking. You are giddy at the brilliance, at the beauty. What a marvel, this world outside the hive, this world that sustains the hive. You may be called to help in a variety of roles: Pollen packing, propolizing, fanning, carrying water, guarding the entrance. You do not question. You serve as needed. And in the end You tend to the dead. You remove the bodies of your fallen comrades from the floor of the hive, sweep away deceased larvae. Sometimes there is a plague, a wave of death, hundreds of bees dying from foraging on poisoned flowers, or from a freeze. It is a devastating time. The buzz ceases in sadness. The hive is silent. But you do not stop working. In winter, You drag the bodies out to the entrance of the hive and pitch them over the side. Then you fly down and drag the carcasses away from the hive. In summer, Stronger from the abundant pollen, you drag the corpse through the hive entrance, then fly with the body hanging below you for a distance. You drop the dead to the ground. Then, in your fourth week of life, Your fourth week of unceasing labor, You will sense your end of days. Soon you will remove yourself from the hive. You do not want to be a burden. If you die in the hive, someone will have to drag you away. So you fly. You fly far from the home you have known The friends you have served. The sound of the hive, the buzz, grows faint. You soar Past the flowers and the over the grasses Lower and lower, your body weakening, your wings barely moving. As you close your eyes You see your life, from larvae to nurse, attendant and fixer, gatherer and undertaker. How did it go so fast? Frail now, Your vision blurs All you can see is a pulsating cube So regal in cream and yellow In its light, you see coneflowers and the dahlias and hear the robin’s song The rich fragrance of the fields Fill your senses, all in a lattice haze Everything is a shining star with six glowing golden sides. You fall You fall, and in your last breath The hexagon envelops you And you take your place in the lavender And honey.
Dedicated to Bill and Beth, who died in March.
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So beautiful and heart-breaking. I'm sorry about your friends but they live in this tiny little bee.
I love this poem, but I am puzzled by the title. Why "Mortuary Bee"?