Sunday, May 20, 2012

naturally speaking

there are days when the lines, like mini neat black and white piano keys and notes tied into perfect riffs and runs, refuse to tumble out,  when the writing genie lies sleeping in the soft sunlight outside. i sit vaguely determined at my desk, staring at ‘it’ outside, wondering if i too should lie outside, a sunny bliss post card of a day, among the wildflowers and green grass, eating a snicker bar and watch the swallows. 

instead, i decide to list my favourite insects, in order of preference, in the hope my writing genie will wake up….sleepy buggar these days, it seems.
first on the list are bees. bees definitely because:
they make honey. the planet would die without them. i like their fuzzy little stripes – they’re high on the cute factor. i like how they hang in clumps on the acacias when they’re moving house, protecting their queen. many times i’ve walked close by, with the horse, and they simply…hang,  not even humming. and dead still. a sleeping  tornado. they have an excellent work ethic, even around flowers, like ants. who hasn’t spent time on their tummy watching ants marching in military single file, taking building materials down under,  struggling under the heavy burden of boulder sized bread crumbs or sitting in head high grass watching a bee harvesting pollen?  if you haven’t then you must. when they swarm, darkening an afternoon,  find shelter. fast. i remember once standing on the bald green foothills of mt meru, a swarm humming close over our heads, the noise like the Japanese Airforce in full battle. all the maasai fell flat to the ground…i followed suite. this is a good thing to remember. go flat and lie still. never move. like champoto told me once in luangwa valley, if your boat capsizes in a crocodile infested river,  never swim along the surface but rather take a deep breath and swim quietly underwater, preferably breast stroke, until you get to shore. splashing along on the surface won’t save you. these are all healthy survival tips. but back to beautiful bees.  you will never know a bee coward. they die for their stings and when they kill, they all join in.  

amanzingwenya (lake of crocodiles in zulu, maputuland, Mozambique border country) in the forest. clive, safari c, benzef, me, and one small zulu boy guide, 12 maybe?  benzef led the expedition, white like a snowman from his factor 50. bees are deeply offended by this smell. clive, our boss and anthropologist extraordinaire and dangerously allergic to bees, shouts “BEES! RUN!” and away we charged, blindly, wildly into the forest. clive dove into the Lake Of Crocodiles go get away from the attack. they followed him over the water. everytime he came up for a breath, they attacked. When eventually, they buzzed off furiously, clive clamboured ashore, more than 50 stings all over his face, neck and back. his tongue began to swell, his breathing became harder and harder. we took the bic biro out, removed the ink, took the penknife out – a tracheotomy was next….he was dying. quite suddenly, in this god forsaken place, we heard a boat engine, Kwazulu Bureau of Natural Resources rangers! we waved them down. They took him back to camp, where he literally crawled to his hut, swallowed handfuls of anti-histamines and scrawled a love letter to his wife: sorry I’ve been such a bastard, and lay down to die. and didn’t.

respect bees. they have been rated highly by great civilizations gone by, like the mayans and the egyptians, those in The Know… they build hives in witches’ eaves.  with these halcyon days of early winter weaving their way quietly and magically about us, the bees hum in my roof, makin' honey and i’m in love. 

termites are a tie first with bees, in my book. (are you still there? excellent. ) since i was a wee thing, i have admired the palaces, towers and universes of these tenacious, voracious, beautiful insects… a beauteous cast system in motion but one which can transform when necessary….from reproductives to soldiers to workers to kings to queens….only the queen can never change….she rules, deep in the dark.

the moon slips out from behind a cloud. the storm’s over. fireflies, thousands of them, twinkle, like fallen stars,  in the forest all around.  i’m a little drunk from whisky and i lose the poker game. far away, near the escarpment, lightening flickers. the shards of mirror, which she hung in the giant sausage tree, twirl in the night wind, a sexy wind laced with the heady fragrance of rain and wet soil – light shards glinting in dark corners.  the mournful whoop of a hyaena drifts through the yard. and there, suddenly, they pour out, like mercury from the mound…alates, winged termites, flying ants, more and more and more, dancing with the spinning light, streaming into the fresh, clean night sky, fat with stars. they have to fly before mating. everyone in a wild whirlwind mercurial search for love, for a mate – to be a king or a queen.  after the frenzy of love making, their silver, laced wings fall off, soft like snow.  boy and girl become king and queen, a done deal… a queen for the rest of her life –  in a sunless palace, overweight, giant, unable to move, pale and white, so grossly fat she can’t move, blindly laying thousands of eggs for up to 50 years.

i think i’d prefer being eaten just after making love. flying ant feasts are celebratory. hyaena lurk, snacking on bitings, snakes, honeybadgers oh everyone. people gather them in buckets and fry ‘em up. they taste a bit like peanut butter – good with salt.

yes. i wonder if the queen remembers her one night of flight? the flight of a lifetime…surely it’s one of the prettiest, most magical, hypnotic things i’ve ever seen, thousands of little kings and queens whirling silver  under a watery african moon...

toodely toot oh bestests. next week: dung beetles. david attenborough, watch your back. bisous X.X.X. buzzy ones on yer neck. x j.


Robyn said...

i think i would prefer to be eaten too...but i will trust you on the taste!? love your writing-even your lists are beautiful

Miranda said...

First time I went to a funeral in Mfuwe we were going to the graveyard, all foresty and thick and suddenly everyone hit the deck shouting 'mzimu, mzimu!' Which as you know means bees but also spirits. I thought it was some ancient funerial tradition, acknowledging the spirits in the graveyard. But, no, it was just a swarm of bees!

Lekker to see you yesterday.


Family Affairs said...

Well I needed 17 minutes to catch up on your last two posts and as ever you didn't disappoint. Tell you co-host to buy LOTS of Kit Kats and keep them in cold storage in order to ensure that you are never gone so long again - already I am dreading that long summer period where you bugger off to Zanzibar in your Kaftan and desert us all again. Lx

toomuchaugust said...

another reason i couldn't be a queen.

i feel about 5 poems in this post (i'm a little drunk from whiskey and i lose the poker game)(i prefer being eaten just after making love)(they have to fly before mating)...oh my gosh, wonders to the Nth!


Anonymous said...

Love your imagery: "they pour out, like mercury from the mound…". Splendid, my dear.

You're back from the hiatus more vivid than ever.

Amanda said...

a tour de force, this. not sure what is more gripping - the image of an eviscerated bic and penknife impaling a trachea (great goddess you witnessed this?) or a night thick with alates.

the way you describe them i envision veils, silver netting, skeins of entomological lace decorating the cosmic living room.

wow, girl. i'll never look at termites the same away again.

Francisca Matteoli said...

So happy to read your stories again. I always discover something new, under your african moon ! Welcome back y hasta muy luego XXX

Francisca, la escritora Chilena from Paris.

Reluctant Memsahib said...

how lovely to see you writing again. how are you? x

Mark said...

Bees taste like hunny, Pooh says so...the happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it ~ Jacques Yves Cousteau

alex said...

spellbinding. marvellous piece of writing Daff. X

PS long live the bees

elizabeth said...

Where are you now, my dear Janelle?
It is July and we miss you!

Bill said...

Eaten or not eaten, a long distance puzzle ... tis far greater to be heard than not at all.


Angela said...

It is AUGUST and we still miss you!

Janelle said...

i'm back i'm back. just writing here so it isn't left on 13. x j