Self-portrait with Hornets by Henri Cole (Poem#23)

Self-portrait with Hornets
by Henri Cole

Hornets, two hornets, buzz over my head;
I’m mapping and cannot keep my eyes open.
“Do you come from far away?” I ask, dozing off.
My gums are dry when I wake. A morning breeze
rakes the treetops. I can smell the earth.
The two hornets are puzzling over
something sticky on my night table
wiping their gold heads with their arms.
Ordinary things are like symbols. My eyes are watery
and blurred. Then I lose myself again.
I’m walking slowly in a heat haze,
my vision contracting to a tiny porthole,
drawing me to it, like flourishing palms.
I can feel blood draining out of my face.
I can feel my heart beating inside my heart,
the self receding from the center of the picture.
I can taste sugar under my tongue.
All the usual human plots of ascent
and triumph appear disrupted.
Crossing my ankles, I watch the day
vibrate around me, watch the geraniums
climb toward the distant mountains
where I was born, watch the blank worm
wiggling out of the window box,
hiding its head from the pale sun
that lies down on everything.
purifying it. Lord, teach me to live.
Teach me to love. Lie down on me.


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