The sun going down is lost in the gorge to the south,
lost in the rows of olive trees, light in the webs of their limbs.
This is the time when the thousands and thousands come home.
It is not the time for the keeper’s veil and gloves,
not the time for stoking the smoker with pine needles.
It would be better to do that at midday, under a hot sun,
when the precincts are quieter; it would be better to disturb
few rather than many. At noon, the hives are like villages,
gates opened toward the sun, or like small countries
carved from empires to keep the peace, each with its habits—
some ruled better by better queens, some frantic and uncertain,
some with drifting populations, others busy with robbing,
and even the wasps and hornets, the fierce invaders who have settled
among the natives, are involved in the ancient trades.
But now with the sun gone, the blue summer twilight
tinged with thyme and the silver underside of olive leaves
calm in the furrowed groves, darkening the white chunks
of limestone exposed in the tillage, the keeper in his vestments
squeezes the bellows of the smoker, blows a thin blue stream
into an entrance, loosens the top, like a box lid, and delivers more.
For a while, the hive cannot understand what it says to itself.
Now a single Babel presides in the alleys and passageways
and as block by block, the keeper takes his census,
he could go ungloved, unveiled, if it weren’t for the unpacified,
the unconfused, returning, mouths gorged with nectar,
legs orange with pollen, landing, amassing, alerting the lulled
to scale their wax trellis or find the glove’s worn thumb, the hood’s
broken zipper, and plant the eviscerating stinger.
For Zein and Bilal El-Amine