One of a series of poems based on her father’s (and subsequently her own) knowledge of beekeeping, “Stings” uses the behavior of bees within their hive as an allegory for her own obsession with death and renewal. A free-verse poem, “Stings” describes the transfer of the bees to the woman who is their new owner. During this transfer, the bees sting a third person, a scapegoat figure; the stinging of the scapegoat enables the hive to renew itself and replace or awaken its sleeping queen.
In this hive there are drudges, “unmiraculous women” who are only interested in things of the household/hive, and there is a sleeping queen. The speaker refuses to identify with the drudges: “I am no drudge/ Though for years I have eaten dust/ And dried plates with my dense hair.” She identifies with the queen, old and worn out, or more accurately with the queenship: The queen dies and is replaced by another queen, but the queenship is immortal, going through generation after generation.
When the bystander is stung, he takes away the pain and exorcises the male at once. The bees that stung him—they are presumably a part of her, too—“thought death was worth it”; their sacrifice was needed to exorcise the male. The rebirth, or recovery, follows: “I/ Have a self to recover, a queen.” Now that the scapegoat is gone, the queenship, glorious, can revive, with power and dominance and nothing of the drudge:
More terrible than she ever was, redScar in the sky, red cometOver the engine that killed her—The mausoleum, the wax house.
This poem, written a year before “Daddy,” expresses much of the same theme, but here the theme is presented through the metaphor of the hive. The hive expends part of itself to expel the male and free the queen. The queen, liberated by the removal of the male, is triumphantly empowered.