Black Bees

My father used the old Ford as a tractor,
dragged dead cows to the pit across the paddock,
taking me along because I was quiet and no trouble.
I’d stand on the back seat and watch him blowing

stumps with plugs of powder; watch him straightening hives
the cows had rubbed against; watch him smoke bees dopey
before taking the lids off the hives ... Sometimes he’d leave
me and the car on a dusty back road.

I’d stand on the back seat, the car rocking in a hot nor-wester,
while he went off into the silence of whining fence-wire,
somewhere out there; smoking bees, making sermons
in the sweet smell of hemp smouldering in the puffer.

He’d come back, poke his head through the open window and enquire:
‘Are you alright?’
He’d open the door and the smell of sticky wax would follow him in.
He’d toss the straw hat covered in fairy wings onto the back seat.

I don’t remember being stung.
They said they stopped counting ...
I could hardly breathe.
‘Stay in the car,’ was the order, but in the silence I forgot.

The hot nor-wester was full of raiding black bees.
I climbed down and went to look for him.
The wind whined in the fence-wire.
The car rocked in the yellow dust.

Peter Olds was born in Christchurch in 1944. His books include Music Therapy (Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop 2001), It Was a Tuesday Morning: Selected Poems 1972 - 2001 (Hazard Press 2004), Poetry Reading at Kaka Point (Steele Roberts 2006), and Under the Dundas Street Bridge (Steele Roberts 2012). He was Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University 1978, and received the Janet Frame Literary Award in 2005. He lives in Dunedin.

Olds comments: ‘I spent the first five years of my life on a small farm in the Ashley area, Canterbury. My father was a bee-keeper. The poem describes an early memory of accompanying my father on one of his trips to the paddock where the hives were kept. There were raider bees in the air at the time. A hot nor-wester blew. I was instructed to stay in the car while my father (protected) went off, out of sight, to check the hives. He was away for a long time. I climbed down from the car, began to make my way across the paddock and was attacked by angry, black bees.'

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