Hornets’ Nest In Four Seasons

By Talvikki Ansel

On the buffy-tan painted house sides
there’s a hornets’ nest we let grow, huge
domed head, anchored crown, helmet of  paper
folded and striated like metamorphic rock,
ashy layers increased by each returning hornet,
chewed wood pulp, saliva, soft tree branches
masticated, first a papier-mâché bulb,
phallic tube, now a bandaged head
swathed in dish towels, unseeing,
pointed chin, mouth a perfect O
the hornets fly out one-by-one
past the stone wall to damp woods,
they drink nectar and fruit juices
return with chewed-up insects to feed
white larvae closed into their cells,
each larva shuts its own hexagonal door,
grows in private within the hive’s
bulbous temple. Vespula maculata,
they fan and fan smoky wings,
immaculate black abdomens, ivory stripes.
Ninety-four degrees, the paper shell
grows beyond yesterday’s, wings like blades
of fans we’ve placed in four windows.
Does one hornet’s saliva make a unique
signature stripe gray? Sycamore suit gray,
cream gray, mouse fur, felted sweater
gray of a cat hairball. The skull swells,
shingled foliations above the garden, a clay bust
a portrait, self-portrait as hornets’ nest,
bald-faced hornets’ nest, bald-faced lie
they chew what they find: window sills,
fence posts rasped as if by razored tongues.
Ring of hornets at the nest’s door,
black type around a well, nightmare scenario
imagine reaching up to touch that swarm,
hot pain of flight. Because it was a marvel
I said: Let’s leave it, gray dross creeps horizontal
along shingles, a needle’s scrawl,
lantern they crawl into, they feed, they tend,
soft page between fingers, this sheet I hold
as it rolls from the typewriter, black letters
faded to gray at the ribbon’s end,
gray of fog and gray of a gull wing tip,
waves to wash one’s face in,
graphite on a graph, I creep below
with laundry basket to the cellar’s cool door,
seven fan their wings, eighty-three degrees in shade—
but you will all be dead
come fall. Will it be all at once, like Jonestown,
or a gradual diminishment?
Fall rain, a slow hornet in the garden walking,
the young dog comprehends hornet,
pulls away. Dripping, shedding water
the nest darkens to charcoal—do they sense it?—
the cooling, shorter days, they must,
temperature tempers their days, flights out, the sun,
squirming insects they pierce and eat,
fanning and feeding, growing their young.

October cold snap, twenty-eight degrees
at dawn the hornets’ nest a stilled
and silver mass.
Flash of sun: feathers, a bird
head and shoulders buried into the hole
eating at the hornets’ nest,
it flies to a grape arbor, bends to eat,
white tooth pulled from the lips of the O
chin-point crumbled, peeling flakes.
Regal. Now the nest bears a crown of snow
two eye sockets, a knight’s armor,
nose guard, visor, empty stare,
like a Persian helmet, museum plinthed
and staring out, that cheeping
I heard in my head and couldn’t place
came from the hornets’ nest, November
it’s packed with birds, ordinary sparrows
roosting in its shell: one bird, a second bird, five
flew out its mouth in the morning light,
insulating, airy layers left behind,
one sparrow burrows through, chin to eye
butts a squirming tunnel
past chambers packed with cells. Gray ruined face,
wind from the north, beat of  hail.
The male sparrow calling: cheep, cheep,
brings long straws, lays them in the cavity,
colonizers of every house and nook, the sparrows
try the hornets’ sphere, break through, gaze out
a second life, second sight.
Behind windows, we go about our business—
feed the fish, wash dishes, go to work, nothing inside
metaphored the scene outside,
raw spring and now the nest’s peeling layers
quivering in the wind beyond glass panes
a silent film, wind lifts and drops, tears
gray leaves, old phone books disintegrating
under a hand lens, pitted and furred,
mothy puffs float above new grass.
Sodden dark, sky-shot through,
peek in one torn hole and out the other wall
it’s blue sky, limbs of the far oaks,
ashy bits we’ll take down come summer,
sometimes they’ll return to the scene, young queens
overwintered under leaf  litter
a memory in the cells, in the shiny body
a south-facing house corner, a site
of pressing heat, food, diligence, and purpose.

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