AT BUCKFAST ABBEY: AFTER THE BEE BURNINGS
By Erin Lyndal Martin
I know they were here.
Their vertigo twists around
the wind. It is my sickness too.
I play blind, smooth over tree trunks with my palms.
I smell the soot of brimstone, the dangling of a hive.
Daylight hard as leaves. I smell the smoke.
Skeps still burn like witches.
They used to harvest honey by burning up the hive.
Bee bodies and a single rhubarb leaf
kindled the flame for beekeepers
to mine with bare hands.
The rest of the comb
they melted down cell by soggy cell
until the wax was useful light.
And honeybees, they say,
were the first tears
cried on the cross.
Ghost bees shiver,
here a leg stuck in resin,
here a wing in the grit of pollen.
I can feel their flight
trying to make these woods
I’m asking for the bees back.
If it’s in your power,
make the stark and sketchy treetops
look less like junkie tourniquets
and more like apologies.
Make the trees say they’re sorry
they kept growing
after thirty thousand hearts
If it’s in your power, make me say
I’m sorry too.
There’s still the scent of smoke
in the air, maybe from a bonfire,
maybe not, and beneath it is the
sticky hum of amber, and somewhere
beneath that is me—notebook,
cigarette lighter, plastic bag.
I can hear the vespers next door.
The living are praying,
but I need the ash
and the burned-out bees,
the brimstone to be wise.
I want to ink out
the taste of charred honey
so I can be glad when there is no fire.
Learn this lesson for me. Tell me what
not to do, how to keep without taking,
how to do better,
here, now, my hair in my eyes,
a pencil in my hair.
(Today’s poem previously appeared in Diode, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)
Erin Lyndal Martin is a poet, fiction writer, and music journalist. Her work has recently appeared in Guernica, InDigest, and Crowd. She is associate fiction editor for H_ngm_n and runs the music website Euterpe’s Notebook.
Editor’s Note: I have had today’s poem in my arsenal for a few weeks now, but something told me to save it for today. I write today’s entry from my own Abbey, St. John’s Abbey at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. I am at the end of a week-long writer’s residency titled “Believing in Writing” at The Collegeville Institute, a workshop centered around writer’s contemplating faith. There could not be a better moment for today’s poem to be featured.
I have had the pleasure of featuring Erin Lyndal Martin’s writing before on this series. When I came across today’s poem in Diode, I was so vividly struck by its story, by its imagery, that I knew I needed to seek the writer out and ask permission to share this startling, beautiful piece. As I searched for the poem’s author I thought, “Erin Lyndal Martin… I know that name… I have loved her work before.”
It never ceases to amaze me how the heart yearns for the same beauty time and again. How I can search the Internet for poetry week after week, month after month, year after year, and then, completely out of context, fall in love with the same poet time and again. So it was with Ms. Martin, a poet whose work I love no matter where in time or space our paths cross. It is as much a pleasure to share her poetry with you today as it was to have her steal away my breath when I read today’s poem.
I dedicate today’s post to Michael Dennis Browne, our fearless leader on this past week’s journey, and to my fellow workshop participants, a group of people whose thoughts and words on faith have reshaped my view of the world.