Breathing Life

Our whole family gathers in the back yard, near the fence line and woodpile. It’s evening, and both the sun and temperature are dropping quickly. Several of us wear light coats. We’re all near-kneeling, our heads bent toward the ground in front of the two white beehives. We look like supplicants gathered for prayer. We  face the quiet hives and talk in whispers.

My husband kneels to pick up bees that lay curled, motionless, in the grass just outside the hives' entrances. He lifts them by their wings, one at a time, and drops them in our cupped, waiting hands. One for Isaiah, one for Levi, one for me.

The bee's weight barely registers in my hand. It lays curled on its side, with nothing to indicate it's anything but dead. Still, I look at it closely and worry about its stinger. Then, I curl my right hand over top of my left so my fingers and palms form a darkened cave, a tomb.

I raise my cupped hands to my face and form a seal over the darkened hollow of my hands. Then, I exhale long and slow, taking care to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. Each breath warms my hands, warms the bee.

Ten breaths, twenty. We whisper to each other, “Do you feel anything?”


“Keep breathing, try a little longer.”

Inhale and exhale, like a child warming winter-cold hands. Wait and breathe. Breathe and wait.

Opening my hands, I peek. The bee’s torso, once immobile now seems to throb lightly, as with breath, the yellow and black cone expanding and contracting with the slightest motion. Is it possible to see a bee breathe? I wonder. Maybe I’m imagining it.

Closing my hands again, I continue to breathe. Cold air in, warm air out, until I feel a small tickle, a bee’s foot brushing my palm. I open my hands and check, yes, a leg is moving. I close my hands and continue to breathe until the bee begins to right itself, crawling sleepily, calmly across my palm.

“It’s awake,” I whisper, “How do I get it into the hive?” 

My husband comes and helps me move it with the aid of a twig, transporting it gently to the door of the hive. Then, it disappears inside its own cave of warmth and safety and we return to scanning the grass, the clover, for half-dead bees to breathe back to life again.

The Hammock and the Bee

Lord, I curl in thy grey 
gossamer hammock
that swings by one
elastic thread to thin
twigs that could, that should
break but don't.
- Denise Levertov


Our eight-year-old boys strung a thin nylon hammock between two trees and hung there together for hours today. The slick material closed around their wriggling bodies like a clam shell, like a cocoon, and they tussled and turned, swinging in the shadow of the green pines.

Isaiah stepped on a bee this afternoon, an unlucky first for the season. He hobbled, screaming and crying across the yard and I threw back the covers where I laid upstairs in bed, eking out a meager nap. I trotted downstairs, knowing my husband would get there first, imagining what kind of injury would cause such a clamor, wondering how we’d handle the ER if needed.

His older brother mouthed the words, “bee sting” as I made my way to the kitchen where Isaiah already had ice on his foot and his Dad held tweezers poised to pull out the stinger. Isaiah's face crumpled in pain and he shook and hopped one-footed to the living room couch where he sat with ice and a comic book.

When I saw him later, he wore socks and shoes, a rare sight for my barefoot boy. Later still, I saw him down in the yard, climbing the fence with his brother, wearing just his socks. By the time I crossed the yard to invite them on a bike ride, they were back in the hammock again. I stood and watched from a distance as he peeled the dirty white socks off his feet, one then the other, and tossed them overboard into the pine needles and dirt.  

Our grass is filled with wide swaths of clover.

Every year he gets stung stepping on bees.

Every time he screams and cries.

Every time it isn’t long before he heads back out, his dirty feet bare and vulnerable as he trots across the open green expanse of the yard.


For another story about my barefoot boy, check out this quick essay from 2014, "This is my shoeless boy, feet stained purple. . ."

I'll be sharing poems every weekday in April in honor of National Poetry Month. Like my page: Kelly Chripczuk: Writer, Speaker, Spiritual Director to stay up to date with the latest.