Queen's Quarterly

Queen's Quarterly
Queen's Quarterly

A Poem about Vanishing

Richard Schiffman

This is not a poem about bees,
but about vanishing. When the past evaporates
into the skies of the future, the present is the cloud
that rises. Crane your neck to look at that cloud
as it vanishes, gets replaced by another cloud
that is passably like the last cloud.
These clouds are each the momentary shape
of your own mind. Your mind teeters on a high wire
strung between the disappearing past
and the indeterminate future.

At any moment you could slip off that wire.
Where would you be then?
The bees would know.
One moment, the hive is a buzzing multitude,
the next, they are simply gone,
all flown off – infected by the pollen
that is tainted by the pesticide
that contains the neurotoxin that destroys
their short- and long-term memory.

The bees, wanting to go home
as you do, have forgotten how to get there.
But this is not a poem about bees.
It is about vanishing –
which is another name for forgetting,
which is the only kind of vanishing there is –

how the present forgets the past;
how the past has already vanished
like incense wafting from a stick,
and the future sends no smoke signals
to the blinkered present;
how we forget the bees,
and they forget the hive;
how the writer forgets the poem,
and the poem just flies off,
can’t be bothered to stay put
on the blank page that it sits on.


Richard Schiffman is an environmental journalist and author of two biographies. In addition to Queen’s Quarterly, his poems have appeared in the New York Times, This American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily, and on the BBC. His latest poetry collection, What the Dust Doesn’t Know, was published by Salmon Poetry.