The Queen Bee Canticles

David Harsent

for Christopher Penfold

The Queen and the Philosopher

Sun on the sea running white, sun on white walls, yes, on the thick
shoulders of the fishermen as they fanned their nets, sun

as an engine, a trapdoor, a compass, Democritus in his cell
the window framing sea and sky, blue climbing on blue, a glaze

shaken by the heat, as she drifted in and held heavy
in the thickening air. It was this: a man writing,

herself as witness, the swarm now stalled and gorged.
When I die, bury me in honey. Fill an amphora

three times my height, five times my bulk, then let me down
into it gently, a long soft glide … His hand shook at that,

feeling himself poised in the moment, mouth filling,
eyes drawn blindly open, his penis stirring and settling.

Noon in the sculpture garden. They hung, with the lightest of touches,
from the outstretched marble arm of the goddess Athena.

The Apiarist Dreams of the Queen

When he picked her up in the Palais de Danse she was wearing
her downtown dress: soft stripes; behind her dark glasses, her eyes

were darker still. The floor was theirs. They did the jitterbug,
they did the Electric Glide and, oh, she was light to the touch.

The glitterball slowed and stopped. He followed her out
to a part of town where the sights and sounds didn’t marry

and shadows fell slack in the streets. She had a room
in a white clapboard apartment block and there they stayed

for a week or more (but this was dream-time, remember,
when things come fast and smudged). There was low-pitched music

on a loop-tape and snaps of herself, in that self-same dress,
with dancing partners who had about them a feverish look, a touch

of delirium: just what he felt each time she drew him in. He turned
in his sleep. Her breasts were honeycombs and her womb a hive.

The Queen in Rapture

A summer of storms. A stone-built Norman church. Hives in the graveyard.
The priest an incomer who preached only sin and redemption.

There you have it. Oh, and on one of the corbels
a bee in flight, flanked by a jack-in-the-green and a manticore.

They swarmed in heavy weather, low-slung and singing.
Light touched the apostles window as they found their way

down the transept and past the rood screen, then rose to the crucifix
taking hold on the Man of Sorrows, his tallow flesh,

until the priest knocked them off with a yard-broom,
so they dropped, howling, onto his head: from neck to scalp

a spinning ball of bees however he turned, however he beat at them.
And the queen in the midst, her frantic dance

in perfect time with his, so thrilled by his passion she stung
his lips, his tongue, his eardrums, his eyelids, his eyeballs.

The Egyptian Queen

On the fourteenth day, as they broke the door to the chamber, there came
a soft gonging from somewhere deep; the ground beneath their feet

rippled, enough to coat their boots with dust. And, touch by touch, the light …
Canopic jars, grave dolls, small flasks that once held honey. The catafalque

cracked under their hands; and, when they shifted the lid, a cloud of bees
came out, although … came forth … was what she wrote, the only woman

to see this: unmarried, a known hysteric, soon sent home to ‘rest
and repair’, her journal somehow lost. The gateway stela gave clues:

I FED TO THE WOLVES SMALL CATTLE … [lacuna] … CLEANSE ME …
[lacuna] … TEARS OF RA … The locals knocked up a basic counterweight gantry,

then worked through the night by Tilley lamp to crate
the smaller stuff, before chiselling the image of Anubis off the frieze.

The flasks were etched with a hieroglyph depicting a bee,
which does mean ‘bee’ … came forth the queen, dark-eyed and tremulous.

The Queen Redivivus

The Queen of Heaven stooped on by the angel: queen of the hive
attendant, her true token. As the risen Christ ate honeycomb, they say.

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Sun through soft rain; the salt smell of blood; the fallen whitening to bone.
She found the eye-slit of a Viking helmet: sweetness in the field of death.

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Cranach’s more-than-naked Venus, her come-hither look, Cupid swatting
at the queen and her entourage: Private Collection (Adolf Hitler; Munich).

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Cornish tinners at Blackheath. Bees in the heather. The leaders taken and drawn
at Tyburn, where she made her nuptial flight, her paramours likewise disembowelled.

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An exemplum – so thought Marx – for their zeal and polity.
She could hear the virgins piping. She broke out. She killed them all.

              §

Joseph Beuys as shaman, his head anointed with honey and gold leaf,
in his arms a dead hare. He glosses, then, The Queen Sculpted from Beeswax.

              §

A hammock between two apple trees, and just a touch light of midday
when I felt her presence. The toxin blossomed under my skin, red-ripe.