The Bees Have Been Canceled, Maya Catherine Popa
Southword Editions, 2017 €7.00 £5.00
While it’s frightening to think about bees becoming extinct, the idea of them being cancelled is a more worrying prospect. To cancel a species is worse than cancelling a train — it’s an violent outrage.
And this collection is riddled, almost shot through with violence, from the the act of extinction mentioned above in the opening title poem, where ‘Sunlight couldn’t save them from extinction’ to ‘Uranium In English’ where there is an extended look at the violence that’s always within us, that we perhaps can’t save ourselves from.
The bullet, one could say,
was always inside of us,
the club a casual
extension of our arms
Almost every poem contains at least a trace of violence, but something I found particularly interesting is the amount of knife work. Several poems contain references to cutting and/or blades — for example the filleted hyacinths and julienned olives in ‘Palimpsests’, or the whittling of wood in ‘Wandmaker’.
These practical acts are counterbalanced by the boy who cuts a necklace from a girl’s throat in ‘The Song of Male Aggression’ or the dissection of ‘a body in medical school’ in ‘The Government Has Been Canceled’.
However, the most explicit reference to knife work is in the excellent ‘Sashimi’ where we see the poet serve her ‘loves’ sashimi hearts / on iceless beds of clean bamboo.’
The poem goes on to mention
I knew the knife-work it had taken
to get here, the hands, my hands,
unfolding origami nerves
Each one of these poems feels like they’ve been hewn, pared down and carved from bigger works, chipped away at, like sculptures or flowers carved from radishes to produce something precise from the more haphazard nature that surrounds us.
‘Uranium in English’ includes the words ‘a string of tiny violences / makes the largest possible.’ The metaphor is disturbing but haunting.