The Girl with Bees in Her Hair

By Eleanor Wilner b. 1937 Eleanor Wilner
came in an envelope with no return address;   
she was small, wore wrinkled dress of figured   
cotton, full from neck to ankles, with a button   
of bone at the throat, a collar of torn lace.
She was standing before a monumental house—
on the scale you see in certain English films:
urns, curved drives, stone lions, and an entrance far   
too vast for any home. She was not of that place,   
for she had a foreign look, and tangled black hair,   
and an ikon, heavy and strange, dangling from   
an oversize chain around her neck, that looked   
as if some tall adult had taken it from his,   
and hung it there as a charm to keep her safe   
from a world of infinite harm that soon   
would take him far from her, and leave her   
standing, as she stood now—barefoot, gazing   
without expression into distance, away   
from the grandeur of that house, its gravel
walks and sculpted gardens. She carried a basket   
full of flames, but whether fire or flowers   
with crimson petals shading toward a central gold,   
was hard to say—though certainly, it burned,   
and the light within it had nowhere else   
to go, and so fed on itself, intensified its red   
and burning glow, the only color in the scene.   
The rest was done in grays, light and shadow   
as they played along her dress, across her face,   
and through her midnight hair, lively with bees.   
At first they seemed just errant bits of shade,   
until the humming grew too loud to be denied   
as the bees flew in and out, as if choreographed   
in a country dance between the fields of sun   
and the black tangle of her hair.
                                                   Without warning
a window on one of the upper floors flew open—
wind had caught the casement, a silken length   
of curtain filled like a billowing sail—the bees   
began to stream out from her hair, straight   
to the single opening in the high facade. Inside,   
a moment later—the sound of screams.

The girl—who had through all of this seemed   
unconcerned and blank—all at once looked up.   
She shook her head, her mane of hair freed   
of its burden of bees, and walked away,   
out of the picture frame, far beyond
the confines of the envelope that brought her   
image here—here, where the days grow longer   
now, the air begins to warm, dread grows to   
fear among us, and the bees swarm.

Eleanor Rand Wilner, “The Girl with Bees in Her Hair” from The Girl with Bees in Her Hair. Copyright © 2004 by Eleanor Rand Wilner. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,

Source: The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)

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Poet Eleanor Wilner b. 1937

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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