American Life in Poetry: Column 661

By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

The University of Minnesota Press has published a fine collection of bee poems, If Bees are Few. Here’s one by one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, who lives in San Antonio. Her most recent book is Famous from Wings Press.

Bees Were Better


In college, people were always breaking up.

We broke up in parking lots,

beside fountains.

Two people broke up

across a table from me

at the library.

I could not sit at that table again

though I did not know them.

I studied bees, who were able

to convey messages through dancing

and could find their ways

home to their hives

even if someone put up a blockade of sheets

and boards and wire.

Bees had radar in their wings and brains

that humans could barely understand.

I wrote a paper proclaiming

their brilliance and superiority

and revised it at a small café

featuring wooden hive-shaped honey-dippers

in silver honeypots

at every table.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye, “Bees Were Better,” from If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems, Ed., James P. Lenfestey, (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Naomi Shihab Nye and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. They do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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