“The Bees and the Lightning” by Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller


That was the summer of the disasters.
I would sit in the hospital’s garden,
Studying the obsessive compulsions
Of honey bees that refused to leave off
Molesting the same heads of lavender
A thousand times, their deft riffling arms
Each length and breadth of an eyelash
Doing the deed again, again. Repetition
Is the calisthenics of the obsessive.
Compulsive hand washing is best known.
The clicking light switch is best known.
The closing car door is best known.
Other needs that tape-loop the mind,
Changing small acts to magic deeds:
An alchemy that turns the brain to gold,
The hands to lead. It was only after I was sure
That the same bee robbed the same flower
Twice, I’d turn to the man next to me—
Curly headed, legally committed,
His right hand fumbling to unbutton
His breast pocket to find the pack
Of cigarettes he already held in his left.
Shock therapy had been his mercy,
For he’d strut the halls afterwards:
A man blitzed with sanity enough
To last as long as a day. His lips alive
With a jolting smile. He had played
Guitar he said once, had been to Spain
To learn. In the garden after treatment,
He’d hum flamenco songs that would not last.
We can only be exposed to lightning
So many times before we become jaded.
The volts that taught him calm each week
Grew frail. Hours declined to halves, halves
To minutes until his two mad dumb hands
Were all he had. His case was distinct
From mine, the doctors reassured me,
I could be cured again and again.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017


Andrew Miller: “I grew up in a very religious household. We prayed at least three times a day, and I was brought up to believe that if my prayers were said sincerely—that is, if they were said with ‘the best words in the best order’—they would be answered. The first time I heard a modern poem (it was Donald Justice’s ‘Memories of a Porch’), I understood that it was a prayer and that the feelings it made in me were the answer to that prayer. I also understood that I wanted to make such prayers of my own, and I am still trying to do just that.”

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