The cover photograph is “Mattie with a Northern Red-Shafted Flicker, Laverty Ranch, Idaho, May, 2005” by Laura McPhee.
Wasps in the date-bearing palm,
Herodotus believed, kept the fruit from dropping
before harvest, withered. Likely he meant the fruit
flies who carry pollen inside the warm guts
of the male fruit to impregnate the trees
lining the canals through Babylon.
Though Herodotus doesn’t tell us this, Amytis—
brought from the mountains to have the hanging
gardens built around her—kept a hive
of bees by her window for the same reason
I keep a jar of apple blossom honey
given to me by a friend I don’t speak to anymore.
Eating rock shrimp & black
edamame last night, Gabi said legalizing
prostitution might create a new species
of rights. And negative freedoms,
she said, lifting a piece of raw mackerel,
are what cannot be done to you.
Meaning that my friend’s sister
cannot be held by the neck, made to scream
in a forgotten room at a party.
Or how, like the other women in the city,
Amytis was made, once in her life,
to wait in the goddess’ temple
for a stranger, as was his right, to give her
a single coin, to be taken by him outside
on the steps in daylight, the coin on a cord
around her throat. Or how the difference
between liberty & freedom might be
what Herodotus measured between the river
& the green interior of the city: fifty cubits
of river brick & asphalted reed mats
strong enough to bear this much earth
& falling water, date palms
& bitter Persian limes the bees
were left only a useless memory of
when Amytis’ husband, as was his right,
kept moving the hive
so they could never find their way home
& each morning when she checked
the honeycomb she found it empty
save for a silver coin.