Oft him anhaga
are gebideð,
metudes miltse,
þeah þe he modcearig
geond lagulade…
wadan wræclastas.
“The Wanderer”


The tiered square-cornered towers

are bone-cold, as are the wax walls

which were our flexible floors

and the pantries packed with nectars none

now taste; barren of the bustle

and thrum of its people, our humming palace

stands hollow and still.

Where are the women, gathered together

to comb the children, balancing burnished

orange pollen pressed into panniers,

fanning nectar of frost aster

and blackberry bloom, sugars of silverbell

and glad goldenrod, into strong sweets

for winter warmth? Far-flown,

rowing their single wing-ships alone,

exiles and refugees on the endless roads

of the sky, to sink at last, lost

and confused. How quickly they

fled the floors of wax and wood;

how quiet, now, the queen kneels,

that peace-giver who breathed grace

and comfort up through the colony’s

stacked stories. Soon she’ll be shut

in a broad black earth-chest;

and though in her glory she gave life

and life and life, slave to the hive,

raised up the gleaming ranks

and soft cells of ivory larvae,

no heir in her amber chamber waits

to wake and mate, not one daughter.

We six who stayed with her

creep or crawl our few aimless, helpless

inches, dazed with misfortune, too dismayed

even to strike at the shocked keeper—and

we were once brave battlemaids

in August’s weapon-weather, fearless

foragers, tender foster-mothers.

Who will remember now the rotating

cluster, its seats at the feast?

or the dance in the dim entry, summoning

sisters to glean the sourwood gold

of summer, bear it bright to six-

sided cups in warm combs

that throbbed with song, quivered and shimmered

with the endless generations? Griefs grow

countless as white clover as we whisper

the name-scents of nurslings and sisters.

If this world’s foundation is not all waste,

how shall we know? Where shall

the last of legions, left solitary,

find grace for herself, or her queen?

—Keeper, do even you know

what brought our bright rooms to ruin

and slips us into the sleep of the sting,

or what drink the flowers drew in

from the roiled air and the rain,

that pillaged the pillared honey-halls

and made mad our strong sisters,

leaving only the drumming

of the north wind’s needles on the steel

ceiling that shields silent halls

haunted by hive-beetles? It is true,

after all, what the old told us,

that at last all happiness

flows cold, all this world’s

stores of sweetness are fleeting and brief.