The Yellow Jackets

— S. Erin Batiste

after Natasha Trethewey

The yellow jackets have returned. Each morning since May
             I’ve awakened to their black and neon limbs building a nest.

Stung by childhood memory, I set out to sabotage their attempts:
             use sticks, hoses, poisonous sprays but my drugstore weapons

are not enough to keep them from hovering above my awning at dawn.
             My landlord intervenes, says they have never been this persistent,

insists my sweetness draws them here this season. I shake my head,
             knowing the wasps and I are a kind of honeyless colony.

The oaks and palms grip Pasadena sidewalks, sluggish with the last
             of summer when all traces of the muddy dens disappear.

Their departure reminds me of my own parents, who spent a decade
             trying to make a family. How nothing stuck: the glassy condos

that confettied the Pacific coastline, the Spanish duplexes in Los Angeles.
             Seattle, San Diego, Tucson, Tempe, Burlingame. The Spokane bungalow

reduced to ash and snow. I picture the wasps sweeping sunrise in cursive,
             they treaded air for weeks determined to shelter their young.

My parents’ failures took years. But they gave up and vanished too,
             leaving me to search for papery wings scattered in the Santa Ana

winds, which simmer like an oven cradling dinner, finally call me home.


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