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American Life in Poetry: ‘Bees Were Better’ by Shihab Nye

The University of Minnesota Press has published a fine collection of bee poems, “If Bees are Few.” Here’s one by one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, who lives in San Antonio. Her most recent book is “Famous” from Wings Press.

Bees Were Better

In college, people were always breaking up.

We broke up in parking lots,

beside fountains.

Two people broke up

across a table from me

at the library.

I could not sit at that table again

though I did not know them.

I studied bees, who were able

to convey messages through dancing

and could find their ways

home to their hives

even if someone put up a blockade of sheets

and boards and wire.

Bees had radar in their wings and brains

that humans could barely understand.

I wrote a paper proclaiming

their brilliance and superiority

and revised it at a small café

featuring wooden hive-shaped honey-dippers

in silver honeypots

at every table.

Poem copyright 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye, from “If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems” (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by the Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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