The Potomac — Poetry and Politics - Laura McCullough
Winter 2009 - THE POTOMAC

Two Stories
   Laura McCullough

Wasn’t That Much Trouble To Do

I know all about men who’ve been in prison. My father spent his life in one, and I never saw him until he came out an old man with a face full of white fuzz, and then he skipped town, and I never saw him after that. I have two brothers, both in jail. An Uncle Upstate, a nephew in Harborfields for boys; he’s gonna follow the family tradition. I ain’t got no children, seen too much what that do to a woman who get herself silly with this baby daddy or that. Not for me. I don’t truck with men at all, in fact, and if I had the choice, which I guess I do, I would love women, bodies smooth and fine, and women don’t go shootin’ up the local Korean grocery or blowin’ each other’s caps off over what block they live on or what scar they dug into their shoulders or what woman which one doing anytime. Women’ll kill you, but it’ll be with words first, and maybe a little bit of box cutter run down your arms which you can live with.

But money’s money, which is half the reason the men in my family all in prison, but women need money, too, and when they asked me to go on in there and see him and give him a special send off when they gave him thirty years, so maybe he wouldn’t take it so hard, I said, yeah, I could do it.

See I’m pretty light, and they gave me the ID for a woman lawyer who, if I were a betting person, I would bet was a white woman. How many lawyers do you see are Black women? Not too many, not around here, not on TV, maybe someplace. I would have been a good lawyer, I told them when they asked, and I bet I would have been had I been able to be one, had the schooling, the money, the know-how. Got to have the know-how about a lot of things in this world, or you just locked out of it; some roads still only for whites or niggers with money. I got no money, but I got light skin, and I’m smart. I look smart, too, and I have authority. That’s another thing a good lawyer needs, authority, so I guess that’s also why they asked me to do it.

It was easy, the getting in. The getting out turned out to be a problem. And he’d always liked me, always wanted to get with me, so when I came in all dressed up with my briefcase and my prison-pass, and official looking as a judge on judgment day, he could have pissed himself silly, and he grinned from two sides of his face almost filling that cell up.

I barely had to lift my skirt before he was on me, and it didn’t take too dang long for them guards to catch on to what was going down because he couldn’t keep quiet and the rest of the men in all them cells could hear him and smell us, and a fuss started to kick up small at first like a murmur or a hive of bees coming alive, and then it was a swelling, and I had to pull him out and tug him off just as the guards came. I smoothed my skirt down and picked up my bag as they came in.

They were laughing, but it wasn’t funny laughter; it was mean, and one of them snickered, “That’s the last piece you’re ever gonna get; hope you liked it.” And the others led me out by the arms.

It don’t matter to me what people think, and the lawyer I met with, a white man, if you was wondering, on my false ID charges, didn’t have much to say about it which is why I liked him. Just doing his job, no judgments, which made me respect him.

After paying his fees to get me off, I didn’t end up with nothing for my troubles, but maybe the feeling like I’d helped man a little bit, to feel a little better when things had gone real wrong. I got a lot of men in prison I can’t do nothing for, but this one man, I could do something for, and so I did.

It’s Not Just About Honey

Some people have taken to calling me “Honey,” and while I can appreciate the aptness of the nickname, I’m not too fond of it. My name is Joy DeSarno, PhD, and I mean that with an emphasis. My family was based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, not the most upscale of towns, though colleagues are always intrigued when I tell them that was where Houdini hailed from, there is even a museum dedicated to him. It’s just a short ride from the Coal Mining Museum. Houdini was, of course, the great escape artist, a magician, and most of the young people I grew up with were searching for some magic in the old, worn out and dug out hills of PA or an escape, anything to get them out.

I found mine in education. Entomology, to be specific. Bees, to be exact. I study bees, and though my family, my father especially, thought it an odd course of study—obsession really—and hoped I’d choose children and family life and settle in town, so that my siblings children could have cousins and my father, in his retirement, could play with my kids the way he did not play with us. Brats. To paraphrase Scarlett O’hara in Gone With the Wind said: I didn’t want a passel of brats. I chose bees, and they chose me, and now, damn it, my family is actually a bit proud of what I do, and tell people I am spearheading the response to the impending bee crisis.

Of course, that crisis is actually here, and it’s not just about honey, though that’s what some of my family, especially my nieces and nephews, understand. Bees make honey, but they’ve deserted their hives. Honey is getting harder to come by, more expensive, and beekeepers are in demand for their pollination services.

See, that’s what people have a harder time wrapping their heads around: bees pollinate vegetation. People eat vegetation. Even the most die-hard meat eater eats a lot of vegetative matter, and the cows and pigs and sheep and chickens they eat are dependent on vegetative matter at various levels.

Unless of course, we just want to feed our farm animals the carcasses of other animals, which does happen more than the general public is aware of, a disgusting, unsustainable practice with multiple systemic ramifications. Community Food Security. A safe, secure food system. People have no clue how dangerous things have begun.

Einstein was once quoted as saying that if honey bees disappeared, human beings would have about four years until mass starvation wiped us out.

Wiped us out. My dad gets that. He knows what’s it like when a massive systemic change takes place and disrupts everything. Coal mining collapsed in his childhood. My dad understands that.

The bees are experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD. Sounds a little like ADD which is what I think my nieces and nephews have—in front of the TV or video games constantly (what the hell is an X Box, anyway, and why would you want one?)—and can’t focus for five minutes on anything. The parents complain, but then, they’re all working so hard and so long and more than one job, most of them, that they have no time for the children. Christmas back home is a nightmare. They always give me honey or gifts related to bees or honey. It was funny once. Not so much anymore.

I was discussing CCD—Colony Collapse Disorder—the bees are disrupted in the very basic sense. If you open up a hive, lift off the top and do not do so properly, the bees will disperse, maybe become aggressive, but they will do so with a sense of group order, and most certainly will return and settle down again later. Not so anymore. Many beekeepers are opening their hives and finding them empty. Not filled with dead bees, just empty.

Bee are leaving, and they’re not coming back. No one knows exactly why. There are numerous hypotheses. Cellphone towers and transmissions. I’ve completed a study proving conclusively that live cell phones left within ten feet of a hive will cause the bees to abandon the hive. Or the introduction of high fructose corn syrup into the domestic bee population. An incomplete food that has far reaching health consequences in the human foods (and is in everything these days—if you’re not checking labels, you’re living dangerously, if you ask me) and consumption (notice the rise in Irritable Bowel Syndrome since HFCS was seriously introduced into so many products in the mid-eighties)—this may be one cause in a multi-pronged problem for the bees. Newer pesticides, a decrease in the wild bee population, other environmental stresses.

Stress. And these are deeply intelligent creatures. The stuff of myth. Lining the bow of the Hindu God of Love, bees have often been seen as the messengers of God.

They’re leaving. We’re not sure they’re dying, but they’re abandoning their communities and not coming back. Unfortunately, it turns out, our lives depend on them. My dad gets a kick out his girl being on the forefront of fending off an apocalypse. Christmas next year should be interesting. One of my nieces emailed to say she’d Googled me and got a lot of hits with my name in it. She’s a bright girl. I could bring her out to visit the University sometime. There are a lot of ways to escape one’s family; babies and marriage are one. Education is another. I can show her that path. And though once you’ve been away, you can never really go home, you can always visit.


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