The Last Beekeeper

Let it be said Ama was the last
Himalayan beekeeper.
When she harvested honey
barehanded in the stone house
we lived in, she took not juniper
smoke but song to the hive.
A home is one flower
and a thousand stings.

The bees flew
into her oiled black hair
and when she combed it,
down fell rhododendrons.
Let it be said not a single bee
stung her. The summer before I left
home she fed me a spoon of raw honey
every night. In the dark I learned
to hold bees in my throat,
one for every ancestor.
Let it be said not a single bee
died. Now, every time I speak
in a tongue not my own,
a bee stings my windpipe.
With every perished bee,
Ama becomes more smoke.
Sing with the foragers,
says Ama, the rhododendron
will open. I begin
Land lit with fireflies
Valley guarded by jackals
Before they
—and my mouth
fills with propolis.
Let it be said if you plunge
your hand into an abandoned
hive, you will still get stung.
At night Ama plucks stingers
from my tongue with her nails.
Each barb she binds
with her lock, and her crown grows
more thorn than rhododendron.
Let me release them into the wild
sky, Ama, where they belong.
No, Moonbug, no, she hums,
filling the wounds with pollen,
your mouth is our last hive.

Samyak Shertok’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Blackbird, the Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, the Gettysburg Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, Waxwing, and elsewhere. A 2020 National Poetry Series finalist, he has received fellowships from Aspen Words, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. His poems have been nominated for Best New Poets and The Best Small Fictions, and received an Association of Writers & Writing Programs Intro Journals Award in 2020.