- Elegy for Wasps
Listen,There was a wasp nest in the rafters, just outside the doorto apartment 18, next to the freeway.In the early mornings I would stand on the walkway, listeningto the buzz of them building their nest.
It was cool in summer. Mist rose up and fell on the breastof the hills where the mountain lions tried to rebuild their habitat.Where the wood voles were starting to mate again,where the jasmine were openingtheir white hands in applause of the sky.
My boyfriend and I had just begun our life together in a citythat wanted to chew everything up for itself and blow it apartlike bubble gum.
I was in my twenties, carrying cups of coffee onto our walkwaydrinking in front of the neighbors in just my bathrobe.
But the wasps never complained.They never forgot something once you told it to them.They carried your secrets up into the octagonal structures of their perfectliving geometric dome.
Little Jews building apartments in Florida.Russian immigrants buying property together in New York.They were building a structure for their children.The pupae. The white mucus of first beginnings. [End Page 151]
All spring I stood on the walkway in my bare feet, drinkingthe sunlight, watching the wasps with their beautifulsmallness shift upward on the wind,strengthening a home made out of wood and saliva,their glistening, honeyed abdomens, like lemon-colored teardrops,like soft yellow and black bullets protrudingas they gave up everything they hadto their young.
Then, one afternoon,our neighbor called the exterminator.
I came home and found the wasps, dead on the walkway,their grey structure half smashed on one side,but the rest, intricately preservedlike a Jew’s paper cutting, kept and coded from the Medieval agesa nest full of larvae frozen in time.
Now we live in a new apartment,smaller, but more expensive.I sit at my writing desk watching gum wrappersfloat along the corridors between us and the neighbors,Russian immigrants who came here,alone.
Nothing else has changed for us.The faces of jasmine open whitely each evening. The voles give birth.The mountain lions search for their mates in the hills.And we’re happy, I think.
But the wasps are dead.Their nest was never finished.I have its remains on my writing desk,next to the pencils and countless sheetsof expensive handmade paper. [End Page 152]
These insects, their frozen energy,their unfinished home, like a tiny, mathematically perfect apartmentand the mummified body of one wasp, who didn’t get out.
Its spindly black legs still kick, like a construction workerswinging a hammer, or a fireman going back into save what is left, in the smoke,a father listening to the sound of someone calling,or singing to him.
The song of all unfinished futures,the children, the white, delicate larvae calling, to the onewho will come back,to save the heart of his giant, papery dream. [End Page 153]
Tresha Faye Haefner is a native Californian. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in several journals and magazines, including Blood Lotus, the Cincinnati Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Rattle, and Poet Lore. Her work has received the Robert and Adel Schiff Poetry Prize and a 2012 Pushcart nomination. She is also the author of Take This Longing (Finishing Line Press, 2013).