i.m. Burt Shavitz, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, d. 2015, aged 80
Weary of the push and frenzy of Manhattan,
Burt lit out in his old pickup-truck for Maine,
pausing only to hive-up a swarm of wild bees
from off of a fence post along the highway. Luckily
he’d been taught bee-keeping by a friend
years back and carried some old gear with him.
Somehow, he managed. A willing workforce
gathered and garnered in field and woodland
while he sat by the road, swearing at the
customers, who, liking his cussedness,
still bought the sweet golden honey he sold
in old pickle jars. Burt’s Bees took off.
But it was Roxanne who saw the potential
after he’d given her a lift into work one day.
She found the two-hundred pounds of beeswax
stashed in the turkey-coop where he lived,
and she turned it into big business. Honey
made money; beeswax smelt of success.
He didn’t want it. She went industriously on
innovating, moved production to North Carolina,
harvested as she went. Scale increased.
He lit out again, back to Maine, to hang out
in the cabin he called home. Didn’t even
keep bees; they no longer gave him a buzz.
– is the ragged fringe of earth
caught between the crust below and swirling air above.
– is in secular motion,
rising and sinking more slowly than imaginings.
– is a flotsam biosphere,
playing out battles on a substrate of eroding rock and soil.
– is assailed by wind, rain and waves,
all driven by the energy of a profligate star.
– is where life strives,
strains upwards towards the sun, is held down by Earth’s mass.
– is used and abused by man,
avaricious to own it, fearful of its vastness.
– is a fount of emotion,
colours like flowers, sounds like birdsong.
– is there before our eyes,
in dreams and memories; tell it in words.
Scalding and Sweet
Following the trace of the outcrop,
threading through the thorn scrub,
we skirt round the black-tipped spears
of the sisal and the giant cacti.
Naked red earth, dry, stunted trees,
waiting, waiting six years for the rains.
In the heat, minutes of long seconds
drag towards three o’clock.
Forty-one in the shade, if there were any.
Air, mouth, skin, everything parched.
A dog yaps, accuses us long before
we find the house in the clearing.
Squat, four corners, sun-baked ochre,
dilapidated, a brown frond thatch
The dog advances, small, noisy and nervous,
skinny chickens pick at an old corn cob.
From under a stained brown hat
the smile in spite of hardships.
‘Antonio’, he says – his hand is leathery.
He has nothing, but orders coffee.
We sit under a tree on a hand-made bench.
In the dark kitchen, a thin woman stirs the fire,
puts the pot on to heat the water.
The house smells of people, the people of animals
He is illiterate but we talk of work
– our minerals, his missing rain.
A five year old in a faded Ronaldo shirt
watches, dirty rubber sandals, dark eyes.
The coffee comes, scalding and sweet
in a small glass. We nurse it.
It took Ronaldo four hours
to fetch the water with his donkey.
In the shade of the mango tree we swap stories
and place names. He speaks of the abundance
the rains will bring when they come.
And they will. This time. God willing.
Vivimos en pleno desierto
says the notice by my shower
at the Azapa Hotel.
We live in a full-on desert.
Parched, I head for the bar,
remembering my journey
from the Altiplano,
where ice-capped volcanoes
feed clear-running rivers;
rivers that suddenly plunge,
the dry Andean ramparts;
to race tumultuously
down bright green ribbons,
through naked hills
of rock and sand
of the Atacama desert;
to flow by ancient stone glyphs
(signs of a vanished people)
that never feel
the cooling breath of rain.
Water from the nevados.
Rivers reaching the coast.
Ice for my pisco sour.
The piping voice of the ibis,
suddenly, clear in the early-morning.
I go onto the balcony, look out
between the tall buildings and over
the red roofs of the city landscape.
I hear the call but cannot see the bird,
broad wings, outstretched neck,
down-curved bill. I remember
when I first saw ibis, in a green valley.
What is this creature doing here,
bird of river, marsh and field,
flying invisibly over built space?
Now, gone, my mind echoing with
otherness, elsewhere and loss.