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Brother Adam

Brother Adam was a monk and beekeeper at Buckfast Abbey.  He crossbred a bee that could survive the Isle of Wight disease devastating much of Britain's bee population.

This is the story of a boy on a train.  
This is the story of a twelve year old on a steamship,
how he lurked small in the shadows
of the monks, cassocks whirled around ankles
to keep the bees from stinging.  This is the story
of a boy who knew bees haunted people. Captured them.
The boy who loved bees so much he changed his name
and gave it to god.   And the black bees, the grumpy ones,
their certain death.   It was in their throats.   It was in the new hives.
It was in the air. It was the bees held against each other,
this boy whispering to the bees that they should
exchange their best parts.  Work stopped at five
for vespers at Buckfast Abbey.  Voice through stone.
The monks and their opened throats.  The lavender garden,
the rose garden. Sit between them to meditate about love.
Lean toward the rose for desire.   Pull the bees out.
Are they the best yet.  The monks with their pipettes
full of semen. The monks blowing the queen into tubes,
hooks pulling her body open. The queen taking the dose.
The queen crucial to the hive.   The boy with heart disease
now, driving to Provence. The story of seventy-two
bends in the road, hairwork-cramped.  All to see a gentle bee.
Hermits in Greece.  The car crashed in Turkey. His heart in his body.
Queen bees sent like postcards. Queen bees rising flush from sage.
The river dart. The river takes a heart. This is the story of a year.  
Kilimanjaro. Our boy, eighty-nine, carried up the mountain
by two other beekeepers. He writes these hives are the fiercest
he’s known.    He writes without gloves. He prefers a delicate touch.
Pulls bee skin onto his own fingers. Black body, gold stripes,
white hand. Wings. Wrinkles.  Logs cracked to proffer bees,
black on black.   Hope of mail. Death in mail.  The boy dead
in ten years. Buried under bells.  This is the story of a boy on a train.


At Buckfast Abbey: After the Bee Burnings

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

                          warm again.

             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
                                       were burned.

                                       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.  


Erin Lyndal Martin is an associate fiction editor at H_ngm_n. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Guernica, Gulf Coast, and Bat City Review.