A rumble summoned my husband last Spring
to rescue a beehive; he found it
hung like a tongue abuzz with hunger,
urgent hooligans hunkering around
a honeyed crux. He clipped the bunched
cluster, curried the tree branch, and dumped
it into a hovel.
He had three hives at the beginning
of winter, but only the mined line
survived this time. He thinks
there’s something in being wild
that keeps things alive
*"Wild Hive" was published in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Fall 2018.
“Wild Hive” is the first poem in my poetry collection, Firefly. This book is an unfolding redemption story, as it paints the picture of my descent into alcoholism and addiction, as well as my struggle to live sober. I hope that “Wild Hive” introduces the reader to the sense of the bewilderment that permeates the mind of an addict. How did I get here? Why am I still alive? If it is my wild nature that helped me survive, what does it mean?
My husband has been a beekeeper, an apiarist, for several years now. He possesses the mind of a scientist, so he studied all of the latest information on beekeeping; he has become quite the expert on all things related to honeybees. His enthusiasm has infected me as well. I have become as invested in the survival of our hives as he has—well, almost as invested. I’m sure the person who actually does the work of a beekeeper is the one most attached to the outcome.
Two years ago this Spring, a couple who are good friends of ours called my husband. A swarm of honeybees had gathered in a tree near their home. Swarms occur for reproductive reasons; a queen bee leaves her hive, taking a number of workers with her, to form a new colony. Our friends had learned, probably from my husband, that it’s best to call a beekeeper to come and retrieve a swarm for their own hive collection rather than call an exterminator. With the honeybee population in decline, we need to respond to swarms in a way that protects them. So, off went my husband, garbed in his netted hat, to rescue his first swarm.
The rescue unfolded just as described in the first stanza of “Wild Hive:” he clipped off the tree branch on which the swarm had clustered, dropped it into a cardboard box, and brought it home. At home, he used his smoker, an aluminum can that bears a striking resemblance to the Tin Man’s oil can in “The Wizard of Oz,” to blow smoke at the bees. The smoke masks the alarm pheromones of the bees, allowing a beekeeper to work around the hive without getting stung; in effect, the smoke stuns the bees into submission. In this way, my husband was able to get the wild bees settled into their new home.
This “wild hive,” meaning a hive that was not cultivated for sale to beekeepers (yes, there is such a thing), but was instead formed in the wild, thrived. At that point, the wild hive constituted my husband’s third hive; they were safely ensconced in their own set of hive boxes.
Most hives are lost over the winter months. Several theories have been posited on the causes of colony collapse disorder, such as the widespread use of pesticides, climate change, or mite infestation; most likely, it is a confluence of factors. When springtime arrives, beekeepers assess their losses—my husband has lost most of his hives each winter and needs to begin again with new bees each spring. The springtime following the first winter of the wild hive heralded a big surprise: the only hive of the three that made it through the winter was the rescued hive. Not only had it survived, but it had flourished.
When my husband reported this news to me, I asked him why he thought the rescued swarm had made it through the winter when his other, more established, hives had not. He shrugged his shoulders and offered this considered response: “Maybe there’s something about being wild that keeps things alive.”
This comment resonated deeply with me; it incubated in my mind for several months, almost like the bees themselves, looking for a place to colonize. In a poetry workshop, the words of this poem spilled onto the page fully formed, as if they had been there all along. In this workshop, the facilitator read William Blake’s “The Tyger”—he prompted us to write a poem or an essay using sound in an inventive way. In one of those too-rare moments of poetic inspiration, this poem wrote itself.
So, why did the words my husband had planted months before worm their way into my subconscious? For me, this message, which appears in the last two lines of ”Wild Hive,” voices what I have often wondered: how is it that I am still alive, given my wild past when I was blackout drinking and using drugs? At 20, I crashed my car while driving drunk into a barn on the side of the road. The accident happened in the middle of the night on a back-country road. We were lucky that another car happened upon us— my ex-boyfriend crawling along the side of the road with a shattered back; me, bleeding internally, pinned behind the steering wheel. Unfortunately, there were many more years of risky behavior while drinking and using drugs. I did not get sober until over forty more years had passed.
Why did I survive? It is unknowable, but it is a common question in the human condition. Why does one person live through a series of traumatic events while another dies young, having lived a short, blameless life? “Wild Hive” is not meant to posit an answer to this complex question, but instead reflect the seeming randomness of mortality. During the peaks of my disease, when I was filled with self-loathing, I didn’t want to continue living. I was too entrenched in the hopelessness of addiction to see a way out. I am grateful that I am now sober—on a good day, I see how my experiences may help another to recover. That is the meaning that I attach to my own survival; that is the way I make sense of this question.