One of the many hats I wear is as a co-facilitator for Wilde Readings Poetry Series in Columbia, Maryland. This week, I acted as host for a husband and wife poetry duo who are also well-known authors and literature professors–Ned Balbo and Jane Satterfield. Their work compliments each other in that they both write about nature, but Ned prefers formal poetry and Jane is more comfortable in free-verse. I’ve chosen two poems to showcase their work, both with a nature theme-but of course, there’s more hidden in the lines. If you’re inclined to settle in for a longer visit, take a look at the video of their reading. You’ll be glad you stayed!
Portuguese Man o’ War by Jane Satterfield
Full sail, a feat
of stylized rigging,
armed frigate, eating machine
whose armadas blow ashore
through warming currents,
to cooler coasts off Amagansett,
up the Atlantic as far north as the Bay of Fundy,
The Isle of Man—and I
who envisioned your technicolor
rays only in Our Amazing World’s
slick pages, centerpiece of
danger and display—how you swim
up unbidden, struck chord
like the wail of sirens, the warning
and the all-clear, the stark list
of grocery stash guaranteeing
post-atomic household survival. So you drop
that fine-spun glass pane
at the first sign of surface threat
to submerge or travel dark, lucent pools—
O blue bottle, spilled ink—
Even dead you deliver a sting.
The bees: A fable
by Ned Balbo
January 22, 2021
“Tiny bees found in woman’s eye, feeding off tears” (CNN, April 10,
2019): “She thinks the insects blew into her eye at a relative’s grave
site when she visited it with her family.” Known as sweat bees, they
are attracted to the salt in human sweat.
Stranger than it appears,
four bees living off her tears
sought brief shelter in her eye
where they stayed, impossibly.
Before whose grave did she kneel?
What discomfort did she feel?
Specks of dirt she’d brushed away
seemed to linger stubbornly.
In the dark beneath the lid
four bees fed on tears and hid,
stinging her with constant pain—
flecks of ash or burning rain.
Still, she knelt and cleared the weeds,
swept the grave site, planted seeds
in remembrance of the dead—
tears withheld and tears shed.
It’s said the eye swelled up—
Through the slit lamp’s microscope,
a doctor, shocked, could see
small legs wriggling to be free:
bees behind the eye, half trapped . . .
One by one, the doctor slipped
each one out; the four bees hovered,
caged in labs. Their host recovered.
There are others who insist
she got used to them at last;
that the bees live in her eye,
sheltered, to this very day,
nourished by her tears, their sting
milder than the pain we bring
to each loss we hold inside—
tears we cannot shed or hide.