by Allison Adair
Of the sheep’s four stomachs,
which would we jar, which stir
into tea? Abomasum, omasum,
reticulum, rumen. Amen. Cud
does loop the gullet like prayer.
And lettuce-hem reticulum shares
its name with the honeycomb’s
net. But for a throat flayed raw
who among us would slice
the distended balloon, harvest
its porridge the color of bloat,
spoon it on a child’s tongue?
Tell me how honey’s different.
Even bees, crocus-drunk, split
their nectar, guttering most,
flume-like, into the loose purse
of a second stomach, sweet syrup
reservoir. Once back at the hive,
each bee regurgitates its swill into
the rapture of a waiting mouth. Gut
to gut, so nectar passes, in chains,
the fury of 20,000 wings boiling off
all water. And what do we produce?
What sap? Bees’ profound necking
falls beyond our French kiss, closer
to the queer plunger of live birth.
Yet, in the dim thrill of evening
we advance. Why does a body turn
inside out like a sleeve at the soft
shock of lips unsealing, letting us in
and out like a canal’s lock? To those
I have kissed, on granite stairs and
idling trains, under a roof cut out
to frame the sky: What passed
between us? How did it harden?
Whom does it nourish now?
My seven-year-old daughter brought a book about bees home from the library, and I was surprised to learn about their multiple stomachs, which I had associated only with ruminants—cows, sheep, elk, and the like. That was the spark: the poem’s first draft was titled “Haggis & Honey.” Why do we accept honey so willingly, stir it into our drinks, even use it as medicine for our children, when we might find it repulsive to do the same with the intestinal scrapings of, say, a sheep? I wondered—but earnestly, not rhetorically. And as I researched more about the chain of digestion and regurgitation bees use to produce honey, I couldn’t help being struck by the incredible intimacy of it. The turn to our own encounters came as a surprise even to me.
Allison Adair’s debut collection, The Clearing, was selected by Henri Cole for the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in 2020 from Milkweed. Her work appears in Best American Poetry, Image, Kenyon Review Online, North American Review, and ZYZZYVA; and has been honored with the Pushcart Prize (2019), The Florida Review Editors’ Award, the Orlando Prize, and first place in Mid-American Review’s Fineline Competition. Originally from central Pennsylvania, Adair now lives in Boston, where she teaches at Boston College and GrubStreet.