Wild Honey by Clare Finnimore
A spider’s web spun across Nepali cliffs
And the white monkey’s hand reaching down for his
Shows his inheritance as surely as the shaman said.
The long ropes
Woven from bamboo
The intricate knots on each step
To prevent side slip.
The father tells the boy his dream is
Portent – it’s how his life will be.
Clumsy at school, his classmates call him weak.
But Rongkemi spirit flames
At 15 the first climb proves him a man.
A cold stone warning in his gut
when his first wife dies.
But he waits in calm
‘Til rhododendrons cover the mountainside,
the ripening season, and the journey begins.
Two days through dense jungle, discarded shoes
and quickening night,
the fire quenched at dawn.
Three sacrificial hens a blood memory.
Whilst he drank deep from the gourd.
Brightens as the canopy recedes.
They navigate in the sound of a crashing waterfall
The icy river
where now his feet clutch slippery stones.
The Tanje hunters
Move forward inexorably.
Above the clouds spirits watch
Wild honeybees unwilling to leave their nests
Parted by smoke and incense
Of burning leaves
Three hundred feet below.
Step by step the beckoning cliffs.
Machete and mask
his only aid.
Up and up.
Near the top an overhang
The ladder outswings
In mid air.
Far below his shouts were heard
And pulleys on the collecting basket
stay the spin.
His heart is beating fast
No monkey hand to reach for
And everywhere stung by angry bees
His face, his hands his eyes
See the hexagonal stickiness
Worlds he will desecrate.
Hallucinogenic honey dripping from his hands.
Scooped into the basket
in a funnel of noise
Pivoting in a slipstream
No successor can be found
After his hunting years are spent
The bees and traders long gone
And the tribes unwilling
To be a spectacle.
The last of their kind.