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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Cathryn Essinger

Lifting the Veil

Experiments indicate that bees have surprisingly rich inner worlds.

Lars Chittka, The Mind of a Bee


In the darkness of the hive, 20,000 bees

are framing 100,000 hexagonal cells

so precise that they were once

considered a unit of measure,


while workers deep inside an almond

grove, saddlebags loaded with pollen,

take a last measure of the sun

before turning towards home.


Still, researchers insist on asking

the obvious—can bees replicate

a task, recognize faces, measure

distance, share joy, and distress?


I hope the bees are amused by it all–

as if the human umwelt was the only

perception in town? What do you

think being a bee is all about?


Inside the hive, they must trade

their own cautionary tales:

Beware the boy with a stick.

Avoid spiders and their webs,


and flowers so sticky and sweet

they will smother you in nectar.

But most of all, do not panic

when the keeper fills the hive


with smoke and you get caught

inside his hood. Stay calm,

the smoke will recede. He will

lift the veil and you will fly free.

The Map Turtle

Separated from their home range, Map Turtles will attempt

to return to the place where they were born.


The map turtle riding in the backseat of my car

doesn’t understand that I am taking her home.

She is pawing, rhythmically,


at the corner of her crate, just as she has been

doing for the last three months while her shell

re-grew under the pink epoxy


the rehab staff has applied. She is a hefty chunk,

the biggest book on my library shelf. She is

the unabridged OED,


all of Bullfinch’s mythology. She is the best part

of the only creation myth that I can believe in,

for I have seen turtles rise


from an icy pond to fan their feet in the first thin

rays of sun. Together, we are looking for the place

where she was born,


that section of land that she knows better than any

other. I turn off the radio, concentrate on the map.

The news is always the same anyway—


everyone trying to be somewhere else. But, tonight

I’m grateful to the intern who noted the mile marker

where she was found


and added this little sketch—three boulders on a tiny

beach where the water often meets the road. I park

the car, turn on the flashers,


and then balancing the crate on the guard rail, I swing

each leg over and lift the crate down to the creek bed.

When I lift the door,


she startles for just a moment, and then steps out,

turning her head left and right. She is making hard

decisions. I glance over my shoulder


to check on the car—it’s a tight turn, a narrow road.

When I look down again she is gone. Simply gone.

I push aside the weeds,


the honeysuckle, but she is nowhere to be found.

I imagine a slight ripple in the water—once again,

she has returned to myth.


I watch for a moment, then fold the map, return

to the car, turn off the flashers and set

the GPS for home.

I Ask the Cherry Tree Why She Blooms

The old cherry tree, battered by wind and age,

has bloomed again this spring, just as sweetly

as she did when she was young.


I see no signs of regret or nostalgia for years

gone by, but I know that she is counting,

ring by ring, as am I.


We wired the splintered trunk so long ago

that we can no longer find the scars.

Robins have made a claim


in the canopy, and squirrels are already

practicing their reach. I want to ask

how long the years can hold,


when the fruit will become more than

she can bear, but she has no time for me.

She has new blossoms


to attend to, fragile as baby’s breath,

and Spring is still the bravest

season of the year.


Cathryn Essinger is the author of five books of poetry–most recently The Apricot and the Moon and Wings, Or Does the Caterpillar Dream of Flight?, both from Dos Madres Press. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The New England Review, Rattle, Ecotone, Terrain, Calyx, and other journals. They have been nominated for Pushcarts and “Best of the Net,” featured on The Writer’s Almanac, and reprinted in American Life in Poetry. She was Ohio’s Poet of the Year in 2005 when she received an Ohio Arts Council Grant. She lives in Troy, Ohio where she raises Monarch butterflies.

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