Things I Tell My Students

—content warning: themes of violence

On the first day of ecology,
a bit about me, how I earned
my Ph.D. in the mountains
of Colorado, tracing deadly metals
that seep from the mines to the
headwaters and on, downstream,
leaving a swath of loss and those
that adapt, like the vulnerable
caddisflies, who wrap themselves
in stone. The cost of their tolerance—
stress. Recovery, a slow process.

I go over the syllabus, explain
how grades will be calculated.
Tell them what to do in a fire.
A tornado. In the event of an active
shooter. I point to the nearest exits
like a flight attendant. The nearest exit
may be behind you, I say. If you run,
stop to think, don’t just follow. Some
students at Columbine ran toward
the shooters.

They know what I mean when I say,
“Columbine,” though that horror
occurred before they were born.
They don’t know it is also
the state’s flower. A five-pointed star
in sky blue, that makes me think
of Jesus on the cross, unable
to pull his arms in, yellow pollen
for the bees bursting from his center.

I demonstrate how to barricade the door.
The desks are bolted to the floor. Any
911 calls go to the county, not campus
police. And what will you do if I am
taken out first? Should it come to that,
you must fight. Note the sharp forceps,
heavy microscopes, the hydrochloric
acid in the flammables cabinet.
Together, I say, you stand a chance.

Then I begin our first lesson. A story
about murder hornets come
to take the heads of our honeybees.
About the hope that our bees
will evolve to be like their cousins
who spit scat at the doors of their nest,
and when that fails and a hornet enters
(I push play on the video), see
how they signal each other, then leap
to swarm a defensive bee ball around
the intruder in the hive. All those wings
whirring, those abdomens vibrating
together generate such heat, they cook
that would-be killer alive.