The river always that certain taint,
watercolor water washing over dead fish.
Their skeletons clotted the muddy sides
and bejeweled rotting blisters.
Wading through bones
reduced flesh. We sank through
the red slurp of mud.
Our father gave one chore on Saturdays.
He told us to take out the hives,
so big and heavy we couldn’t imagine life inside of them.
My brother and I each carried half
into sunlight that melted shirts from our bodies.
Inside and outside blurred from heat,
fan clicking past the oven leaking onto our mother’s knees.
I stepped in my father’s muddy boot-prints
holding my breath as we tried to lift the wood.
We put our fingers on the edges,
opened the hive body like a letter of dares.
My fingers tugged through splinters and mesh.
Bees trapped gravel and bits of clay
inside the wax. Jesus, it looks like dogshit in there,
my brother said. Sundays he’d apologize for swearing.
Jesus had suffered for me, they said,
and I thought of my own arms, bug-bitten,
burned dark as tupelo bark, the stings I took like punches
from a hundred small bullies. To pretend
they didn’t hurt, I kept still and thought
about fish bones, the slinking trail of a beaver past the hill,
the artless sloth of tortoises, my brother’s bad haircut,
how one day I would stop carrying my father’s corpses.
My boots slick and hot. Dead bees in the mud.