Variation on an Old Theme

by Elizabeth O’Brien

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, one clover, and a bee. -#1755, Emily Dickinson

To make a prairie takes a clover and one bee:
an in-particular strain of dalliance, arrogance,
its yeasty plangence coherent in every bloom.
It takes a palaver plus one unlikely flaw: a crushed
lapel or ruffed wrist. Clipped front tooth. Mispro
nouncing mannerism. Arriving at half the meal
already gone, cuffs wet, unraveling—
The unraveling alone will do.

The air thickens and furs with pollen and—
yellow fever—the nectar ferments, the mead
takes honey to bottle and drinks to you.
It takes raw sugar, a dark space. One appetite.
Just the gamble and a sticking point
makes a storm brew. When the chain
slips from the cassette, a-topple goes

the frame, though the wheel is not untrue. This, too:
for a wobbling homeward bee is in need
of summer grassing, and I’m alone,
sassed out on hunger that takes undue,
flinging out hollow combs
as if that makes the ratio new.

Between cog and reverie, it’s a wavering grid,
fermentation’s a rash mathematics
and to turn a lone bike tandem
takes a stretch of prairie sky,
a length of steel, and you.

If you waver on a note, in each cut
be true. Don’t empty the hive
to sweeten one night’s broth:
unraveling is too gamboling

a way to measure, and already the bees
are few. Doesn’t that just take the clover?
It’s flawed, it’s flawed

but if you’re thirsty unbury the bottle
and give it due.

Copyright 2016, Elizabeth O’Brien

Elizabeth O’Brien lives in Minneapolis, MN, where she earned an MFA in Poetry at the University of Minnesota. Her work—poetry and prose—has appeared in many literary journals, including New England Review, Diagram, Sixth Finch, PANK, and Ampersand Review.

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