The Foundation of the Number Six (Is Family and a Harmonious Home)

     –for Jill Lane

          “Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb”
          –Jean Toomer

The day after a friend died at 51, I found

15 bees next to the laundry room, each one

a comma marking the mortal clauses of sentences,

lightened husks scratching with every turn

of the ceiling fan staticky messages on the tile

the aging dogs have stained with their need.

I didn’t know how they had gotten in, why the need

to expire en masse next to the carpet that we’d found

backpacking in Morocco, where we’d slept on tile.

Near the French doors, I noticed a lone one,

not dead but dying, wings still trying to turn,

and another in the orchid window, their sentences

easy enough to scan, bodies like tulip bulbs sentenced

to wintering. My friend hadn’t received what she needed,

leaving before the season had a chance to air and turn,

short of the time the doctors guessed after they found

the tumors deep in that number-shaped gland, one

of the organs nobody can live without. The center Jenga tile.

Bees can invade a wall the same way, build tiles

until the space is owned wholly, unseen, by comb. Sentence

a hive to death or attempt a rescue—choose the one

in this case to be most effective for the host’s needs,

but it will become a collage regardless, a found

poem of encaustic, zipped-up parts. Please turn

up the sounds of the universe, override whose turn

it isn’t: the rich man who reads answers from digital tiles,

whose exact same stage 4 diagnosis is accurately finding

the question: What is remission? This whole sentence—

Nine percent—is the tenser construction. That’s the need-

to-know she never told most of her friends, just the one

or two who understood such minority odds weren’t the ones

ever going to be in her favor for survival. Now we slow-turn

the shiva trays, pass the pastrami, ask her children who needs

the spicy brown mustard to spread on rye stacked like tiles.

It lay in wait for her, this pre-wrapped delicatessen sentence.

In the smoke of our ancestors’ genes is how we will all be found,

though sorrows of this nature seem far too deep for me to probe. One

apiarist finally finds the hive. He guesstimates it’s six pounds, turns

his ear to the tiles, listens to the bees chew and chew these sentences.


The winner of the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition for The Crossing Over (March 2019), Jen Karetnick is the author of eight other poetry collections, including The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, 2020) and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize. Her work has appeared widely in publications including Cimarron Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, JAMA, Lunch Ticket, Michigan Quarterly Review, The McNeese Review, The Missouri Review, North American Review, One, Ovenbird, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Salamander, Tampa Review, and Verse Daily. She is co-founder/co-editor of the daily online literary journal, SWWIM Every Day. Jen received an MFA in poetry from University of California, Irvine, and an MFA in fiction from University of Miami. She works as the dining critic for MIAMI Magazine and as a freelance lifestyle journalist and a trade book author. Her fourth cookbook is Ice Cube Tray Recipes (Skyhorse Publishing, June 2019). Find her on Twitter @Kavetchnik, Facebook @Kavetchnik and @JenKaretnick, and Instagram @JenKaretnick, or see jkaretnick.com.