Urban jungle, yes literally, not metaphorically,
though maybe more like a ghetto forest.
Leading the determined coalition, is one sleek fox,
low lying, white tipped tail, like a log on legs.
Following fellow fox is great black bear, also
in forceful forward motion, head level, purpose
in his gait and onward gaze, alongside the girl.
She, decked in tartan plaid skirt, red cap
and sweater, strides along friend bear
among the graffiti’d concrete landscape
peppered with spare thin trees, once patterned
for park pleasure seekers and outdoor fun.
In ruins now, no one in the neighborhood
respects the land, so the conservationists
have taken up extreme measures for the cause:
the children and the animals, who will inherit
the earth when the mature of the human species
go extinct, march forth to the city council meeting
to state their peace: “Who will speak for the trees
and the bees before they’re completely gone?”
I Tell The Bees
He left for good in the early hours with just
one book, held tight in his left hand:
The Cyclopedia of Everything
to the Care Of the Honey-Bee; Bees, Hives,
Honey, Implements, Honey-Plants, Etc.
And I begrudged him every single et cetera,
every honey-strainer and cucumber blossom,
every bee-wing and flown year and dead eye.
I went outside when the sun rose, whistling
to call out them as I walked towards the hive.
I pressed my cheek against the wood, opened
my synapses to bee hum, I could smell bee hum.
‘It’s over, honies,’ I whispered, ‘and now you’re mine.’
I waited all day for tears and wanted them, but
there weren’t tears. I touched my lashes and
the eyewater was not water but wing and fur
and I was weeping bees. Bees on my face,
in my hair. Bees walking in and out of my
ears. Workers landed on my tongue
and danced their bee dance as their sisters
crowded round for the knowledge. I learned
the language too, those zig-zags, runs and circles,
the whole damned waggle dance catalogue.
So nuanced it is, the geography of nectar,
the astronomy of pollen. Believe me,
through my mouth dusted yellow
with their pollen, I spoke bees, I breathed bees.
The colony grew in my body all that summer.
The gaps between my bones filled
with honeycomb and my chest
vibrated and hummed. I knew
the brood was healthy, because
the pheromones sang through the hive
and the queen laid a good
two thousand eggs a day.
I smelled of bee bread and royal jelly,
my nails shone with propolis.
I spent my days freeing bees from my hair,
and planting clover and bee sage and
woundwort and teasel and borage.
I was a queendom unto myself.
Going About With The Bees
I walked to the city carrying the hive inside me.
The bees resonated my ribs: by now
my mouth was wax, my mouth was honey.
Passers-by with briefcases and laptops
stared as bees flew out of my eyes and ears.
As I stepped into the bank the hum
increased in my chest and I could tell the bees
meant business. The workers flew out
into the cool hall, rested on marble counters,
waved their antennae over paper and leather.
‘Lord direct us.’ I murmured, then felt
the queen turn somewhere near my heart,
and we all watched, two eyes and five eyes,
we all watched the money dissolve like wax.
My body broke when the bees left,
became a thing of bones
and spaces and stretched skin.
I’d barely noticed
the time of wing twitch
and pheromone mismatch
and brood sealed in with wax.
The honeycomb they
left behind dissolved
into blood and water.
Now I smell of sweat and breath
and I think my body cells
may have turned hexagonal,
though the bees are long gone.
When the wild queen leads the swarm
into the room, don’t shut the door on them,
don’t leave them crawling the walls, furniture
and books, a decor of moving fuzz. Don’t go off
to the city, alone, to work, to travel underground.
The sting is no more apis mellifera, is a life
without honey bees, without an earful of buzz
an eyeful of yellow. The sting is no twin
waving antennae breaking through
the cap of a hatching bee’s cell. The sting
is no more feral hive humming in the stone
wall of the house, no smell of honey
as you brush by. No bees will follow, not one,
and there lies the sting. The sting is no sting.
About this poem
First published in 2011.
Jo Shapcott won the National Poetry Competition in 1985 and 1991. Her collections include: Electroplating the Baby(1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, Phrase Book (1992), and My Life Asleep (1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). Her Book: Poems 1988-1998 (2000), consists of a selection of poetry from her three earlier collections. Her latest book of poems, Of Mutability, (Faber, 2010) was shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize and won the Costa Prize for Book of the Year. She was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2011 forOf Mutability. She is also co-editor (with Linda Anderson) of a collection of essays about Elizabeth Bishop and co-editor with Matthew Sweeney of an anthology of contemporary poetry, Emergency Kit. She teaches on the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.
…Monsanto’s contribution to the vanishing bee population is detailed. From genetically altered corn, Monsanto produced an insecticide called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which once ingested by bees, Bt binds to receptors within the bee’s stomach lining that keeps the bee from eating. Of course this weakens the bee, causing the breakdown of the inner stomach wall, which in turn makes the bee susceptible to spores and bacteria. To further compound the problem, for years the lobbying power of the chemical giant denied causing damage to the bee’s internal immune capacity for resistance to parasites, which of course only continued to kill off the bee population worldwide. Thus, continued chemical use, especially in America, only exacerbates this growing problem.
Global Research, March 07, 2016
It is not enough that bees are vanishing: sick, stressed, overworked or poisoned. No one source of colony collapse and disappearing bees can be pinpointed by consensus. Now, due to vanishing supply but unrelenting demand, bee hives are the latest coveted commodities to steal.
The Washington Post reports in As bees vanish, bee heists multiply the following:
The bee economy in California is immense. Eighty-two percent of the world’s almonds are produced within a 400-mile stretch in the state. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of un-gated almond orchards in California, all of which need to be pollinated in the span of a few weeks in February — by an ever-dwindling bee population. Beekeepers come in from across the country to fulfill contracts with farmers and brokers, moving hives to and fro on forklifts and flatbed trucks. And they come with a steep price that’s getting steeper every year.
At the start of pollination season in 2010, the average hive cost $130 to rent. Rental fees are $200 this year, and will continue going up as hives continue to die off. The industry is becoming increasingly volatile, increasingly expensive and thus, increasingly criminalized.
Bee keepers forego income most of the year, banking on readying themselves for payday when the season arrives. When their hives are stolen, they cannot recoup their losses and despite the article’s keen detective (a beekeeper himself) on the trail of these thieves, few of these crimes get solved. This business runs on slim profit margins, so keepers are unlikely to break tradition and invest a whole lot on gps and other tracking, stamping and registering technologies.
The answer lies in saving the bees, not in tracking and imprisoning the criminals (though that too should happen). Finding the cause(s) of the bee scarcity to eliminate roots out the entire chain of victims and perpetrators. Banning known pesticides that weaken, confuse and/or blind (mutes sense of smell) bees, breaking down colonies and affecting bee populations seems like a logical start–globally.
Investment in and cultivation of local beekeeping so that a variety of bee species thrive rather than feeding traditional worker bees like honey bees on intense single crop diets, i.e., all almonds or fruit trees, is another solution. Keeping local native bees to pollinate a variety of local crops has been known to grow bee populations
Bees are responsible for over 75% of our food supply. I am baffled why more attention, funding and efforts are not thrown at their plight. The bees’ lament is our own: industrialized agricultural production is killing us. We are too far from nature, mother and human.
|Assembly Bill No. 1789|
LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST
Vote: majority Appropriation: no Fiscal Committee: yes Local Program: no
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:
(a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
Section 12838 is added to the Food and Agricultural Code, to read:
(a) On or before July 1, 2018, the department shall issue a determination with respect to its reevaluation of neonicotinoids.
In fits of nostalgia, I have bemoaned the loss of bygone items and activities. No, not 8 tracks or vinyl, but more like the bliss of ignorance. Somehow, not knowing what everyone I know ate for dinner last night or that a hit and run accident happened in some town called Smartsville hundreds of miles away is something that strikes me nostalgic. I miss the quietude of select pieces of information entering into my sphere of knowledge. I miss the word intrusion that had meaning, not like now where it will be erased from common usage given that there is nowhere to hide from anyone else in the world.
In particular, however, I will miss the bees.
Not just because I grew up with them, just like I grew up with aluminum street roller skates and homemade skateboards of wood blocks mounted atop those skates. But because our world depends on them, more than we know. I am not an alarmist. I shy away from ringing any alarm bells for a cause as I am a subscriber to the crying wolf wisdom. Save the fire alarm for what most needs sounding. The bees need a five alarm fire warning, for they are sounding bells for us in their departure. Why are the bees leaving us?
Not that they are going off for good. Most bees abandoning us are domesticated slaves to the agriculture industry, shuttled from farm to farm to pollinate crops, but it’s not only the pesticides that are killing off these slave bees. Those in the wild know better than to go where the pesticides waft in the wind through miles of wheat stalks or almond trees. It’s also the stress. The suffering, farm-raised, overworked honey bees are one of the most threatened populations–enslaved pollinators chained to their instincts and the dollars that drive their keepers and chemical companies. While the EPA as well as the world looks away.
Bees are responsible for a third of all we ingest.
Agribusiness practices include bee transportation across countries where they are released to pollinate crops: a month feeding on blueberries then another month on almonds and another month on some other fruit or vegetable plants, season to season, place to place. Keepers earn their keep.
The artificial dietary conditions and non-stop travel schedule stress these insects that vibrate to one another and radar their stress all along the colony, a highly systematized bee industrial complex inside the hive. They want out.
The smart bees have left the building–abandoned their hives, collapsed their colony. They punched their final time card in the clock.
Stress and pesticides are forcing the bees out. Their disappearance is a message to those who can decode it. I will miss the bees.
Photo: Bobby Doherty
Victory, most probably pyrrhic, for the bees last week in a San Francisco Court that ruled against the EPA’s approval of neonicotinoid pesticides, specifically sulfoxaflor, a Dow chemical product that confuses bees flight patterns, according to the New Scientist. Apparently succumbing to “public pressure” (Dow’s money and agricultural lobby?), the EPA approved the use of the chemical without enough viable support, tactfully stated as “flawed data.” This despite the known harm to not only bees but all pollinators, other insects and even birds.
The upshot: Fuck the bees. There’s money to be made.
But can we live without the bees?
The battle for the bee is not won, however. Though one of these nenicotinoids have been banned in the U.S., they have not been banned in Europe or elsewhere. Bees do not stay in one place. And other harmful pesticides are still in use–just not sulfoxaflor.
And while pesticides are only one of the causes for the dwindling bee population, they are a big contributor, one that can be controlled by human intervention. So hooray for the court’s decision last week, but so much more needs to be done.
Who will speak for the bees?