Keeping bees with Sylvia Plath

I began beekeeping in 2018, the same year my son was born.

I’d been fascinated by honeybees for years before his birth, but that happened to be the year I committed and got bees of my own. He was just two weeks old when my first bees arrived, and the day I transferred them from their “nuc,” or nucleus housing to their actual hive, I got stung seven times.

Those seven stings felt so amazing, taking me away from the pain and depression of being a new, tired mom who saw her life fading away as her boy came more and more into the world. Those stings pulled me out of my body and dropped me squarely in the middle of some non-time, non-space existence. Those stings felt like the pure, non-corporeal enlightenment I’d been seeking all my life.

Those first bees did not make it through their first winter, and some of my second bees have made it thus far through their first winter. I’ve got my 2021 order of bees in place, and I’m looking forward to another year of beekeeping. My son has survived his first few years, and the week I get my 2021 bees, my boy will turn three.

Becoming responsible for another human life has been hard, and much of the past three years has left me in a state of suspended existence unlike the existence I felt the day I got those seven stings. The past three years have been filled with joy and laughter as much as they have with tears and sadness and depression, but the hard stuff always feels harder than the good stuff feels good.

To get through some of these times, I’ve been putting together ideas for a collection of essays that explores beekeeping, motherhood and post-partum depression. My first essay is almost ready to be sent out to the world, hopefully finding a home before May (I know, I know, that’s not much lead time in the publishing world!), but yesterday, I came across something that has me itching to get working on some research and another essay: Sylvia Plath’s poem “Stings.”

Although I really enjoy Plath, I don’t know her body of work well. I know what most people do: “Lady Lazarus,” “The Colossus,” “Daddy” and The Bell Jar. I know she married the poet Ted Hughes, they had a couple of kids and she put her head in an oven to end her life. I know she was brilliant but troubled. And as a mom who has wanted not to put my head in an oven but find an end in other easier ways plenty of times in the last three years, I have a newfound compassion for what I once thought was just crazy selfishness.

And with my introduction to Plath’s poem “Stings,” and the revisions housed by Smith College, I have a newfound curiosity for Plath and her work. Beyond that, I feel this sense that perhaps my ideas to explore beekeeping, motherhood and post-partum depression aren’t so weird after all, that the confluence of the three things isn’t something that speaks to just my moment on this planet.

It’s hard to feel the promise of Spring and new life when I look out my window to falling snow, but I know it’s there, like the promise of a new idea bubbling under the surface.

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