Sunday, April 9, 2017


When the wild azaleas bloom
in the fields along the Sonoma coast,
the air is laden with the odor of spice:
cinnamon, and nutmeg, and decay.

Sonorous European honeybees buzz in,
dizzily, they roll on their backs in ecstasy,
such sweet mead madness in morning meadows. 
Then they drunkenly port their poisonous booty 
back with them to share with the hive.

In Anatolia and Iran, bountiful bees gather nectar
from the rhododendrons and azaleas. Blood-red
rose-of-the-forest Deli bal honeycombs
were planted along the routes of the invading armies
of Xenophon, and Pompey. Roman legions,
after eating the mad honey, were delirious.

They swooned, light-headed. The narcotic
bitter honey was both a term of endearment
and a weapon of mass destruction. 
It was such sweet surrender as they fell,
into their camp beds and on the battlefields
fringing the shores of the Black Sea.

Meanwhile, our bouquets of Diogenes lanterns
blossomed on empty Syrian airfields. Shells,
and sarin gas, like breathing knives made of fire,
our funereal sweetmeats for the dead.


First drafts:

When the azaleas bloom, the air smells like cinnamon

When the azaleas bloom,
the air is laden with the odor of spice:
cinnamon and nutmeg.
Sonorous bees....

When the wild azaleas bloom along the Sonoma coast,
the air is laden with the odor of spice:
cinnamon and nutmeg. and something more narcotic.
Sonorous european honeybees buzz in,
and roll on their backs in ecstasy, such sweet mad mead.
Then they take back to the hive their poisonous booty.

Mad Honey – The Alameda County Beekeepers Association

The Strange History of ‘Mad Honey’ Deli bal

Xenophon, and Pompey Xenophon in 401 BC in Anabasis “… but the swarms of bees in the neighborhood were numerous, and the soldiers who ate of the honey all went of their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhea, and not one of them could stand up, but those who had eaten a little were like people exceedingly drunk, while those who had eaten a great deal seemed like crazy, or even, in some cases, dying men. So they lay there in great numbers as though the army had suffered a defeat, and great despondency prevailed. On the next day, however, no one had died, and at approximately the same hour as they had eaten the honey they began to come to their senses; and on the third or fourth day they got up, as if from a drugging”

Grayanotoxin Poisoning: ‘Mad Honey Disease’ and Beyond

Not just azaleas have toxic nectar, take the death camas:
The paradox of toxic nectar and pollen in death camas  For death camas, only one specialist is known. The death camas bee, Andrena astragali, is a solitary, ground-nesting species, one of the many related species referred to as mining bees. Death camas bees collect pollen from death camas, but do not eat the pollen and probably eschew its nectar as well.... Pollination biologists with a flair for chemistry have found toxic nectar or pollen in 21 different plant groups, so this strategy to deter generalist pollinators and nectar thieves may be somewhat rare but is widespread.

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