by Emily Banks


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ReviewNew Orleans ReviewCimarron ReviewYemassee, and Pembroke Magazine.