Reviewer: Erica Goss
“The hive will come to know the new, caged queen.
Her scent, alarming at first, will become
recognized, comforting.” —“Requeening”
Amanda Moore’s new collection explores the consequences of succession, in beehives and in her own family. “Requeening,” or the process of introducing a new queen to an established hive, finds parallels and contrasts in human life, especially in the often-fraught relationships between mothers and daughters. When the queen “can no longer produce / the brood,” the beekeeper replaces her; when a daughter demands independence, needing to put some distance between her mother and herself, the mother must negotiate a new space, physically and emotionally.
The removal, destruction and replacement of a queen bee is brutal—as Moore writes in “Requeening,” “I know you will crush her before I can argue”—but necessary for the survival of the hive. The process of giving a child more freedom, however, is less clear-cut. “Mom, just go,” Moore’s eight-year-old daughter tells her in “Indication of Love,” as she’s dropped off at camp; i.e., no lingering goodbyes, no kisses. Later, Moore finds a clue to this behavior in a school assignment, one in which her daughter describes a painting where “the woman and the girl / are holding hands / but the woman is mostly behind.” In other words, the girl needs to step out in front, but still wants her mother’s comforting presence, albeit in the background.
Parenting challenges continue in “Love, a Burnin’ Thing:”
My daughter is giving up
on words—at least with me.
She slams the door,
berates me with silence.
As Johnny Cash sings “Ring of Fire,” Moore recalls the exhilaration and pain of giving birth, when she “felt / every centimeter ignited: my expansion / a perfect burning circle, / her soft skull crowned / in flare and flame.”
In “A Place, Asleep,” Moore evokes the peculiar haze that descends on parents of a newborn:
She consumed us, and we would sit in the wake
two scrappy pines uncurling amid ash and char,
occasionally disappointed we hadn’t just burned up.
The daughter’s personality grows more intense throughout childhood:
It isn’t much better now. She’s restless, doesn’t want
to turn off this world that so delights
and seems to exist only for her.
That Moore’s own child, who grew inside her mother’s body and, like all infants, required her absolute devotion and attention, has become a puzzling and opaque human being, informs “The Quickening.” Moore ponders the influences of her daughter’s inheritance from various ancestors: “with what / did they lace your psyche / there by the lake / as I could only fathom / joy within?” The poem tempers nostalgia with a certain unease. How well do we ever actually know any other person? If we are parents, do we really understand our own children? The joyful birth that ends a pregnancy is also the beginning of a long road filled with varying degrees of happiness and emotional turmoil.
Compare this to the life of a queen bee, who simply and repeatedly gives birth and is not tasked with raising her offspring. In “Foraging,” Moore describes the life of the queen after her one “nuptial flight, / small force of nature:”
She will find the hive again after mating, grow
too fat to fly, lay eggs for years, and never again
feel the sting of sun or ripple of wind off a drone’s back.
Parenting a child throughout the turbulent years of adolescence contrasts sharply with the ordered world of the hive. In “Sweet and Fitting Haibun,” Moore sketches her daughter’s development, from the “rapture in years six and seven” to “when the hormones dropped like bombs.” The poem ends with these poignant lines:
If someone had told me I would become, like my own
mother, bug-eyed and impatient … well even then I would beg them tell
me the old lies: that it goes so fast, that it gets easier, that it’s worth it,
sweet and noble, in the end.
By contrast, the queen bee’s sacrifice—trapped deep in the hive, sending her daughters out to “feed on faraway fields,” making it possible for humans to “taste the places we cannot see / or touch, eat industry that isn’t ours” (“Foraging”)—seems enviably simple and precise.
And yet, how can we humans even imagine the motivations of such an alien species? In “Collapse,” Moore asks the rather surprising question, “What do bees want?” The question startles because, as Moore puts it, it’s “a question I’ve never asked / myself or any expert.” All we know about bees is what we observe, and, from our observations, we can certainly conclude that they need “to gather pollen & nectar, need water & shelter.” As to what they want, however, “who can say?” As she tends to the hive, Moore reflects:
I did not know what I was looking for but trusted
diligence would keep us from disaster.
They wanted me out of the way,
so I closed it all up,
left them to their own devices.
The diligence meant to keep the bees safe is comforting and strikingly different from the ongoing battle between mother and daughter. It’s much easier, as Moore shows us, to leave a beehive to its own devices, but not so easy with a child. In “Haibun on the Ides of March,” the daughter has become a stranger: “Who is this child beside me, railing against each word, hurling insults until I, too, begin to weep?” And later: “To say a girl must overthrow her mother to make her way as a woman is absurd.” Yet even the queen bee’s daughters will eventually remove her, going on to create another, fitter mother whom they will trap and tend.
In this timely, provocative collection, Amanda Moore offers neither easy solutions nor tidy, comforting endings. Succession, whether in the human or natural world, may be painful and brutal, but it is inevitable and necessary for survival. Requeening reminds us that nothing in life is permanent, and that the most important duties, including motherhood, are often the most perilous.