Poem: To Kill the Bees



by J. Ramsey 

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.”

                     -Albert Einstein

 Dressed up in camouflage Like soldiers We used to hunt bumblebees in the back yard. We would chase the bees away (or try to), From the cement basement foot of the little red house where my parents tried to grow strawberries, all the way across the clover patch that lined the driveway. I guess it was only a few adult steps, really. But to us it seemed like a wide stretch of terrain: A battlefield occupied by the enemy. My best-friend Andrew and I—we shared the very same birthday, us too— We’d gather up rocks and sticks that felt like logs —like battering rams in our child hands-- And we’d gather our giddy kid courage, tucked around the corner: a commando team on a mission: to kill the bees.


We'd count to Three and then we’d yell “Charge!” and aim as we ran and we’d throw our clumsy load in the general direction of the bee-spotted clover patch, sticks and stones tumbling into the air buzzing with adrenaline and we’d keep on running—breathing hard—right back behind the house and across the yard, far away and safe from any bumblebee counter-attack. Recovering, huddled, we’d try to see if we’d done any damage. Then we’d sneak back to the woodsy part of the yard, to gather up more sticks.  For the next attack. I can’t confirm that we ever actually killed one. Maybe we did.  Maybe we didn’t. We certainly tried. We didn’t count the corpses, at least not that I recall. But hiding against the house, we convinced ourselves that we had at least sent those bees a message that they would not forget. High on a weird kind of hunter’s rush.  We swapped war stories. We were warriors. Committed to the cause.


The bees, of course, always came back. I think we assumed they would. This was a war that would go on for all eternity: Indian and buffalo, though we weren't out to eat them.

Somehow we never got stung— (Is it really true that bumble bees don’t sting?) Nor did we break any toes. The bees were tolerant of our childish, stupid game Or maybe we were just lucky.

But ever since, I’ve had the creeping feeling that the bees would have their revenge.                                    *

The sound of apocalypse, scientists are saying, may not be that of a meteor crashing into earth, after all. Not a volcano erupting in downtown LA. Not a giant wave crashing on all the coasts at once, not ring of hydrogen bombs exploding above our heads. The sound of apocalypse may not be a sound at all. But a silence, where the buzz of bees wings used to be.

For it’s not just little kid hands and little kid weapons that the bees have to worry about these days. The biggest of the big adults are in this campaign with their voracious corporations and the latest pesticide smog, their hack and slash cookie cutter real estate, and genetically modified pest-repellant corn to feed to hogs, they  have bottom lines for battering rams and blow-torches to illuminate their blind forward charge-- a star-spangled electromagnetic hurricane.

Three decades later, the odds shift.  We are learning that Bees don't always come back. Yes, there's still a battle on for the clover patch and its part of a planetary, worldwide class war. And this time, I'm on the side of the bees.



People in this conversation

  • Guest - Gary

    What a beautiful and thought-provoking poem, J. Ramsey!

    As for what "scientists are saying," I found this online:

    "The honey bee is the primary source of pollination for approximately one-quarter of all crops.

    There are tons of fruit crops that rely on the honey bee for its role in pollination. This large group includes almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, blackberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, pears, raspberries, strawberries, and watermelon.

    The seeds of many vegetables also depend on the honey bee. The value of crops that rely on the bee has been estimated as high as ten billion dollars annually in the United States. The queen (head bumble bee) hibernates during the winter season and begins a new colony in the spring. Bee scientists have developed a way for the queens to skip their hibernation and produce colonies year round. Colonies of bumble bees are used extensively in greenhouse pollination of crops such as strawberries and tomatoes.

    Honey bees are an excellent source of honey and beeswax. These substance are used to make many objects that are useful to humans such as candles, polishes, and ointments. Beeswax can be used to make gum, inks, lipsticks, and crayons. Honey bees produce a gummy substance called propolis, which they convert from tree sap. In addition to its anitbacterial properties, propolis also contains royal jelly and pollen for human consumption. Honey bee venom is extracted and used in the production of antivenom therapies. This is being investigated as a treatment for several diseases of the muscles, connective tissue, and immune system. This also includes multiple sclerosis and arthritis."

    This information, plus the fact that my father and grandfather were avid beekeepers, puts me on the side of the bees too (despite the fact that the backyard hive once turned on my dad and he counted over a hundred stings...)

  • Guest - Roxanne Amico

    Thank you for this wonderful poem, Joe Ramsey. When I was very young, I also had a war with [wasps]. My mom told the story of how my sibs and I attacked them with kleenex. They stung us through the tissue. They won! But it was much later that I too learned that they could lose, and then, so would we all....

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