by Susan O’Dell Underwood


The scarred man
whose skull the mother bear chewed
and the woman whose arm the alligator mangled
swear they hold nothing against nature
or those animals,
driven to protect their territory
and eat a decent lunch.

When you were a child and hadn’t yet learned
responsibility for where you stepped,
honeybees on the clovered yard would stab their venom
into the tenderloin of your arch.
You howled to watch those fiery stingers
pulse their poison in the web between your toes.

Your entire leg would swell, your breathing shorten,
toxins effervescing toward your heart.
The bubbling soda-and-vinegar salve your mother
daubed on the wounds did nothing to save you
from the carnage of blood-red throbbing,
the poisoned flesh, your fragile skin
stretched thin to rupturing.

You didn’t care back then
about the little bees who died,
crushed by the giant unseen of your careless foot.
It’s only late in life you understand
sacrifice: the bees died trying
to save the blooming world.

What better intercessor than the bee,
back and forth between hard work and honey,
between the flower and the fruit,
the promise and the sting?
You seek and risk true groveling at the hive,
a doorway closed but humming.

SUSAN O’DELL UNDERWOOD directs the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University. She and her husband teach but devote as much time as possible to a small publishing company, Sapling Grove Press, which publishes the work of under-served artists, photographers, and writers in Appalachia. Besides two chapbooks (From and Love and Other Hungers), her poems are published in many journals and anthologies, including Oxford American, Crab Orchard Review, and most recently TQ14

Photo: “The Hive #9 | Lincoln Park Pavilion, Chicago, IL” by Michael Muraz