Sherman Alexie

Let us remember the wasps

That hibernated in the walls

Of the house next door. Its walls

Bulged with twenty pounds of wasps


And nest, twenty pounds of black

Knots and buzzing fists. We slept

Unaware that the wasps slept

So near us. We slept in black


Comfort, wrapped in our cocoons,

While death’s familiars swarmed

Unto themselves, but could have swarmed

Unto us. Do not trust cocoons.


That’s the lesson of this poem.

Or this: Luck is beautiful.

So let us praise our beautiful

White neighbor. Let us write poems


For she who found that wasp nest

While remodeling the wreck.

But let us remember that wreck

Was, for five decades, the nest


For a black man and his father.

Both men were sick and neglected,

So they knew how to neglect.

But kind death stopped for the father


And cruelly left behind the son,

Whose siblings quickly sold the house

Because it was only a house.

For months, that drunk and displaced son


Appeared on our street like a ghost.

Distraught, he sat in his car and wept

Because nobody else had wept

Enough for his father, whose ghost


Took the form of ten thousand wasps.

That’s the lesson of this poem:

Grief is as dangerous and unpredictable

As a twenty-pound nest of wasps.


Or this: Houses are not haunted

By the dead. So let us pray

For the living. Let us pray

For the wasps and sons who haunt us.

Found In Volume 38, No. 02
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Sherman Alexie
About the Author

Sherman Alexie is the author of twenty-two books, including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, War Dances, winner of the 2010 PEN Faulkner Award, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a PEN Hemingway Special Citation winner. He is also the winner of the 2001 PEN Malamud Award for Excellence in the Art of the Short Story. Smoke Signals, the film he wrote and co-produced, won the Audience Award and Filmmakers’ Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.