At Eighty-Three the Apiarist Becomes Mellified
Two weeks before his death Jedidiah Pryne begins. He disdains
his usual egg-fry and toast, spurns corn-mush with cream, pork cracklings and catfish. He ingests nothing
but honey from his own hives: Bee-threshed rosemary, lavender, clover, gallwood and linden, thornapple, sage. Even cool, astringent eucalyptus
luminous blue in its stout pot,
holds a place on his ever diminishing table. Within days bones
emboss his tea-stain skin, intaglio of anatomy. His breath thins, flowers overlying
As a boy his grandfather, keeper of secrets and bees, regaled him with stories of ancients
who became human confections. This achingly sweet mummification.
As he drifts, he dreams : tree boles, hives
eaved below pitched roofs, pine framed boxes: brood chambers, queen excluders, everything sugary topaz in the gilding of wax-spindled light.
A murmurous thrum of wings fills his head.
He welcomes his own slowing,
even as the hives slow come winter—
bent flowers pleated
with hoarfrost, ice-sheathed stalks,
the bees drawing inward, forming
their nexus of drowsy bumble—
his own slack flanks, sunken belly,
crepe-draped neck, signal rest.
His devotional of nectar-dredgers
—their seethe and fever, restless gyre of brindle
in the hexagonal amber of the chambered throat— oblation.
Everything he is—dungarees, brickwork hands, tool bench and tire-swing,
calendar-art in dust-curried rooms, constellations of mason-jars and ashtrays starring darkness—transfigured
into pure distillation.
Jed watches light spill through blurred panes, a slur of sun and moon. His bones
soften, intricate combs cluster in the ivoried curve of rib and groin, in lung’s petaled tissue. Crimped, desiccate, he crawls to the clawfoot— painstakingly filled over the last week—nearly half this year’s harvest. Trembles
on the cusp. Slides deep. Porcelain cradles his skull. Beyond the small bathroom skeins of bees spangle the sky.
His heartbeat falters. Consciousness collapses
to a pinprick