OPP #12: Melissa Stein


Melissa Stein’s Rough Honey is one of my favorite poetry books of the past few years. I re-read it often (including today during a gray, rainy morning), and I have written about her poems here before, using her poem “Robber girl” as a prompt. I am sharing another of my favorites here today.

Olives, Bread, Honey, and Salt

The lanes are littered with the bodies of bees.
A torrent took them, swarming in branches
just as the white buds loosened their hearts
of pale yellow powder. Each body is a lover:
the one with skin blank as pages; the one
so moved by the pulse ticking in your throat;
the one who took your lips in his teeth
and wouldn’t let go; the one who turned
from you and lay there like a carcass. If we were
made to be whole, we wouldn’t be so lost
to each offering of tenderness and a story.
Therefore our greatest longing is our home.
There is always the one bee that circles and circles,
twitching its sodden wings.


I love this 14-line structure, the busted up sonnet. The repeated sounds that begin right out of the gate – lanes/littered, bodies/bees/branches, torrent/took, pale/powder. I could go on. And the list of lovers – so specific and bittersweet. And my favorite line? “If we were/made to be whole, we wouldn’t be so lost/to each offering of tenderness and a story.”

If you want to read more of Melissa’s work, visit her website here. And by all means, if you’re buying books this poetry month, pick up Rough Honey. You won’t be disappointed. (Powell’s Bookstore has a 15% discount on all poetry titles in April…)


If you want to write:

1. Begin and end a poem with bees. Put at least one lover in between.

2. Choose one line of Melissa’s poem and write it down the left margin, one word at a time. Use those words as starting words for your own lines.


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