Honey

by EMILY BANKS

I. She sinks into a pool of azaleas. Impossibly bright pink dusted inside with a darker blush. Stamen and pistil curve like a swan’s neck, beckoning. The bees will glut themselves. The virgin queen is laughing deep beneath the leather-smooth petals. She’s drunk for the first time and doesn’t think that anyone is trying to hurt her. She only feels lighter, as if the vault that holds her honeyed soul has burst, tipped over on its side and emptied out. The sun shrivels away the water-weight of memory. She’s drunk for the first time, the overpowering musk of beauty mingling with her own secretions. Unlike the worker bees, the queen can sting repeatedly without dying. II. The summer I slept in a room of bees, I learned raw honey doesn’t smell the way it does when it comes from a plastic bear. I was sixteen. Sticks in my memory: like sweat pooled in a fold of flesh competing with the afternoon’s perfume. Or, as it hardens, an unknown cologne, the guilty morning sheets you gather in your arms as for a ritual, shove them in the washer doused with detergent, its supernatural blue label promising to restore you. III. Honey grows dark and waxy on the rim of an old jar, gluing the lid shut. We learn it’s a man’s job to pry open a thing so difficult. To coax it with warm water from the faucet, or force it, triumphant grunt and gritted teeth.

IV.

On the train to Jigokudani, three girls board in clean school uniforms. Although the car is empty they sit close, letting the folds of their skirts overlap. It doesn’t matter what language they speak, you can’t understand girls that age unless you’re one of them. But I can feel their frenzied yelps, the sugar rush buzz of secrets pouring into ears with breath, sticky and warm, like a scar on my own palm. A boy enters and they erupt, pink-faced and elbowing. They call his name. He hides his head in shame. I want to say, whatever it is you think you want, don’t be too quick to step out of this train, this roaring steel vessel that holds you together, here, for just a few delirious minutes.

V. Orientation. The girls watch videos that measure us in cartoon wine glasses:                          one glass is a party,                          two a show,                          three glasses is a buzz and then                          your body is a site of violence. It became an adventure game we played, the older girls imparting wisdom in the bathroom line: Don’t go upstairs alone. Last night I slept in my old college town, and dreamt the long-dead dog of my childhood alive, but something wrong. She slunk as if ashamed from my embrace, her tail between her legs. She’s had a bad experience, A voiceover announced. I woke thinking we all know what that means. VI. My lover is afraid of bees, so I force him to stand before the bush, watch them suckle the sweet juice from these fragrant white flowers. I tell him at sixteen I walked on bees, pulled their barbed stingers from my heel like it was nothing, vacuumed up their bodies from my floor. I promise it hurts more to be afraid of it. Like any pain. Hurts more to be afraid.

EMILY BANKS lives in Atlanta, where she is a Ph.D. student at Emory University. She holds a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill and an MFA from the University of Maryland. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including Free State Review, New Orleans Review, Cimarron Review, Yemassee, and Pembroke Magazine.