Shining Black and White by Hannah Bissell
On 04/03/2015 | 4 Comments
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Editor’s note: We asked our contributors to respond to this spring-related prompt:

Using the following phrase as a starting point write for 10 minutes without self-editing:

“Collapsing under a canopy of green…” (source: The Journal)


Shining Black and White

Collapsing under a canopy of green

is the log jam I played on summers

after school and after supper

under the serviceberry blossoms

and thimbleberry leaves. I was queen

of the dogwood and maples,

aphids and thatch ants my subjects

as they scurried in and out of the rotting wood,

bumping into hornets, the kingdom’s miners,

excavating the gems of pith and amber

from the tree’s ringed bones. I don’t remember

when I left them to work without supervision,

all of them biting and chewing,

carrying off more scaffolding

than the stack of logs could bear. We’d call it

over-harvesting; we’d call it a decimation

of natural resources. But what it was–

pith and pulp to build the larvae cradles

and cells. Breaking down what was

to make what is: a new colony of hornets

flashing their shining black and white

in the sunlight. Is it better to create those mouths,

those regiments of stingers? Is it better

to burn them all, starve them all,

and leave them with empty beds? No,

you say, because the air is theirs, the log

theirs, the pith and the pulp and the larvae

theirs. I said I was queen of it

but their queen was queen, ruled it,

controlled their harvest, and they bowed

to her. What, then,

is mine? I ask each time I hear the world

is theirs because they were the first ones

in it. Nothing, the experts say

from their wooden houses. You are a stranger

here. Each of us is. It is time for you

to give it all back. I ask what to give them,

where I should go,

and I hear no answer. I leave firewood

and picnic tables on the lawn for them.

I have taken the bee traps down

from my eaves. In my dreams,

the hornets chew into my walls

carrying poison and fire.


Hannah Bissell makes her home in the wilds of Montana with the grizzly bears and the fish. She holds a master’s degree in poetry from Pacific University, and her work has appeared in The Whitefish Review, Cloudbank, The New Mexico Poetry Review, and others.

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