Yellow Jacket Nest
Bobby C. Rogers

Yellow Jacket Nest

The nest was buried beside the water meter in the front yard. They’d built so deep
     the yellow jackets must have felt
the hard winter half a year away. My son was cutting the grass when they swarmed him,
     a knot of wasps intent as any of God’s creatures
on surviving through to the next season. I heard the power mower choke down and
     the boy’s screams but didn’t know
the cause of it until I rolled back his sock and one of the yellow jackets that boiled out
     stung me on the knuckle, an electric stab

as though I’d touched it to bare wire. So easy assigning motivations to the clouds and
     the wildlife, most every act
fitted with a reason, even cruelty explained away. I could see the wasps, angry as they
     ever are, elbowing out of the hole in the ground
and taking flight. They mark their enemy. If an insect can be said to have an idea, it’s
     protect what’s theirs. Do they feel any better
for the pain they’ve brought? I don’t understand my own reasonings, but I knew
     the boy would have something to remember

from that year besides the record snow the yellow jackets predicted. There’s a grain
     of hate inside us that will burst and root
no matter the weather. The dented gas can was handy so I poured the nest hole full.
     “How about you light it?” he said, forgetting
his pain for a moment to see if I’d do it. “The gasoline’s ruined that nest. No sense
     killing anything twice.” It would be a long night
with the poison in his blood, running a low-grade fever, a swollen foot elevated on
     pillows, his face distorted into something not quite his own.

What if the cruelty of wasps wasn’t cruelty at all? I settled him on the couch with ice
     on his ankle and a book he won’t feel like
opening, then I went back outside with a box of kitchen matches and for no reason
     dropped a lit one down the empty nest hole.

Bobby C. Rogers

is the author of Paper Anniversary, which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. He has received grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and was named a Witter Bynner Fellow at the Library of Congress by Poet Laureate Charles Wright. His latest book, Social History, is out from LSU Press in their Southern Messenger Poets series.