after Mary Oliver, for Karl von Frisch
If you’re having a panic attack
you should try to notice three things,
like your toes in your shoes, the pressure
that frees the cold spritz of a grape,
laughing in the other room at what
she'll come and show you in a minute.
With honeybees, there’s a dance
that means Nectar is near
and sweet, and another expressing
nothing but joy.
Entomologists accept it now,
but it would be decades before the man who first noticed
was acquitted of “Jewish” science.
That’s how it is with noticing:
when you do it first, they find a way
to call it madness.
How long have you been talking?
Meanwhile I’ve been diligently
admiring your eyelashes. Maya,
this is important, you say. You mean
the light on your eyelashes isn’t.
Noticing pollinates noticing.
Ask Mary, obliged to notice / more
and more about the white moths,
the pink moccasins. All that
energy. A bee’s life
is like a magic well: the more you draw from it,
the more it fills with water, said Karl,
beneath his moustache made of bees. No one
finds the centre, just a wasp
inside a fig. The work
will never be completed—
this meting out
of secret choreographies, of a timely
sprig of eyelash-light
to those who pay attention, who move
towards the nakedness of things.
As I’m sure you know, earthworms
have voices and sing.
I don’t need to tell you
that their stridulations
can be heard
through twelve miles of soil,
and that they emit these sounds not as we previously thought
(muscling through burrows, dislodging air)
but by opening and closing their mouths. So you know, too, they rarely
sing alone, preferring a chorus. And they have five hearts,
and two simultaneous sexes, and busy the surface
with nightly orgies. Our lives depend on the worm’s
pleasure, as well as its toil.
No doubt you’re aware that earthworms were sacred in Egypt.
Cleopatra permitted no farmer to trouble a worm in the midst of its work.
It was a good law, Cleopatra’s.
She understood—how worms, simply
by doing worm things, make date palms, plum trees, pomegranates
possible. And how gingerly
we ought to tread on the earth, saying sorry
worm, sorry, didn’t see you down there. No
no, it’s my fault. As you were.
You’ll have realised by now why I’m telling you this.
I thought that we would be sacred to someone.
I thought there would be a law on our side.
what my nation protects
instead of our trampleable
bodies, our buried
voices and songs.
Cut an earthworm,
you’ve heard, and its halves will heal whole
then shimmy off—flummoxed
but largely okay, shaking their pink
heads free of the dream
of a lengthier life.
It’s a game children play,
practicing tyranny, thrilling their friends:
look how much they can inflict
without squirming! Look
where the myth of resilience
a worm song winds down.
Maya Owen writes, sings, and hopes to see a whale in real life. Her poems appear (or will) in The Offing, Palette Poetry, Berfrois, HAD, The Shallow Ends, Muzzle, and elsewhere. Sometimes they’re nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net Anthology. Currently she reads for Monstering, a magazine by and for disabled women and non-binary people, and has accidentally started a queer roller skating club. She’s passionate about the proper etiquette for transporting snails to safety after rain.