Back to the ant farm circulating in my body. So we said that we were approaching maximum capacity and that I was going to have my friend shoot me so that all the ants can gush right out of the gaping wound, but not every ant is as simple as all that. They’ve heard the stories from their older siblings, that once you gush out from an open wound there’s no telling what might happen—and so it is, of course, that the smart thing to do is to hang out by the heart, loiter just below the inferior vena cava, hold on to each other in a tight chain so as to resist getting pushed out into the cold harsh world. There are some ants that hold on like this for ages, for all time, burrowed into little nooks, even—hiding out in my heart where they know there is always a home, safe, pounding and ever so warm.
—Sawako Nakayasu, from The Ants
Following the scent
In the widening gyre
The legendary creatures were lost
To their size
Did not see how strength could be used against them
Entered the canal to find it
Those that want greatness
Those that want above all
To be read
As the sticky pistil is read
As an impression in the soil is read
We carry our laughter above our heads
To feast on
My sisters guide me ever
Where the radius ends
We are already there
Licking the joy from our eyes
We do what the gods will not
Worker Ant Poem
Go out or stay in. See those Bs there? Walk away antman, not worth it, go—
Keep going despite the alarming scent. Driven to go, push harder, yeah, lean into it,
then whoa WHOA—red tail lights. Okay, forget the food.
You see, I change tracks.
What was I saying? Yeah, typical female response.
Blocking the way, I mean, come on. I’m no worm.
See this slender waist? I’m on a list for mating—
“in case of fire”
that’s right, you gotta be ready, antman.
It’s not like that. You know, when I get an itch I just use my L-instrument
back here, like this, you gotta be careful not to signal shit. They come running
at the softest WEEEEEEE Hey, go back, just scratching! Anyway,
what was I saying? Yeah, the odor trail—
you gotta swim against the
Y E S S W E E T Y and SOMBER ROT and whatnot
How do you know...
Know? No, no. Yes? No choice antman—that’s the crux of it.
The ants devour you because you’re weak
The ants like fatty things.
In the sun you bake, a slow roasted pig.
Fat drips, splashing pools of delight on
the heated cement.
The ants march one by one up the back fat
you no longer have sensation in.
Ants linger on the warm moist sweet skin.
Lost ants move west and then east.
More ants file up and over.
The ants cover a fat man.
Every square inch of a fat man,
a fat man becomes a skinny man.
A skin and bones man.
Ants eat and gorge themselves until there is
A no man among a colony of ants
in a no man park in no man weather.
Stay inside in no man weather.
An Ant and Fly had sharp dispute
Which creature was of most repute;
When thus began the flaunting Fly:
“Are you so laudible as I ?
I, ere the sacrifice is carved,
Precede the gods; first come, first served—
Before the altar take my place,
And in all temples show my face,
Whene’er I please I set me down
Upon the head that wears a crown.
I with impunity can taste
The kiss of matrons fair and chaste,
And pleasure without labor claim–
Say, trollop, canst thou do the same ?”
“The feasts of gods are glorious fare,
No doubt, to those who’re welcome there;
But not for such detested things.–
You talk of matron’s lips and kings;
I, who with wakeful care and pains
Against the winter hoard my grains,
Thee feeding upon ordure view.–
The altars you frequent, ‘tis true;
But still are driv’n away from thence,
And elsewhere, as of much offence.
A life of toil you will not lead,
And so have nothing when you need.
Besides all this, you talk with pride
Of things that modesty should hide.
You plague me here, while days increase,
But when the winter comes you cease.
Me, when the cold thy life bereaves,
A plenteous magazine receives.
I think I need no more advance
To cure you of your arrogance.”
The tenor of this tale infers
Two very diff’rent characters;
Of men self-praised and falsely vain,
And men of real worth in grain.
—Phaedrus, translated by Christopher Smart
EACH INSTANCE OF WORD ‘BUG, ETC’ COULD BE REPLACED W ‘POEM, ETC,’ PLZ KEEP THIS IN MIND
today i printed poetry. a bug living in the printer got smashed. its guts smeared across the poem, corpse flattened near the title. when i see a spider i take it outside. recently i got bit by one. called a phone number and they told me i wasn’t poisoned. once i felt a sting on my knee. my lover said i may’ve been bitten by a spider. i said no. next day i had a giant abscess. i poked it with a needle. it drained and i felt pain. i saw a doctor. he said i made a mistake. eventually it started to heal, but my knee was in pain when i competed in a ping pong tournament. i lost in the 1st round to someone i was much better than. some people don’t get bit by bugs. other people get eaten alive. in the summer mosquitoes bite me. i used to cover my mosquito bites in a pink liquid. it felt so good, soothing an itch destined to return.
—Paul Hanson Clark
From Latin insectum, a calque of Greek ἔντομον [éntomon], “cut into sections.”
He enjoys crawling on the walls and ceilings. The terrestrial parts of the biosphere emerge from his troubled dreams. He flies, he walks, he sometimes swims. He is determined to have a compound eye conferred upon him. His silken hairs are infiltrated from below by a tortured peeping sound. He crawls. His mouth contorts. Feeling drawn once more into the circle of humankind he marvels at the gigantic dimensions of his old voice. Here and there from a distance. His old voice. He peeps. He makes a show of it. He makes general announcements over a hunched shoulder. “Seamlessness, to stridulate.” He gives notice. It is all no doubt for the best. He gives notice effective immediately. Drawn once more into the circle of humankind. He makes a show of it, sits propped upright. He rubs his wings together. He peeps.
With words from three texts:
A Popular Description of The Human Eye, with Remarks on the Eyes of Inferior Animals, by W. Whalley, M.R.C.S.E., with Forty Illustrations.
Kafka’s Metamorphosis, trans. Susan Bernofsky.
—Michael Joseph Walsh
Today the ship got so much motion
I could not set to my pencil today
an insect we took shone more
than any thing in nature
save the gems which brought us here
he lived in a glass with saltwater
several hours I forgot
to mention two birds were caught
in the rigging one so weak
it died in my palm
after that we lost the net
a stray turtle attempted the ship
we continued to revenge ourselves
I was a child hanging out on a tennis court somewhere in Boston. My family members were playing tennis. I was bored watching them play. It was one of those devastating, doom-cloudless sunny days. I was six or maybe I was seven years old.
I peeped a moving accumulation of a substance near mid-court near a chain-link fence. I walked closer. A huge number of ants paraded toward a fallen lollipop. I watched them march toward the candy. Their marching seemed to have no mind.
I thought of how my mom would say “You can’t just eat candy.” I thought of my mom telling me to eat a piece of fruit. Maybe the ants didn’t know about healthy food choices if they bombarded this lickable lollipop with such abandon.
I jumped upon them and stepped and killed some ants with my sneakers. I jumped up and down. I didn’t think they were anything. I didn’t think about them at all. I didn’t think.
They stopped. They turned and gestured toward each other. Silence. I saw some ant heads turn to the side as if what they saw before them was some mistake.
They ceased this march toward the perfect, sun-baked lolly.
They began the collection of the bodies. Some paraded around the bodies to protect them.
No one, nothing approached the lollipop.
I was a monster.
I watched them for a long time. I watched them carry. I watched them return. I saw the careful funerary procession.Like something Tim O’Brien wrote: “They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.”
I watched the ones who left return. I watched why an ant has to be able to carry 50 times its weight. Soldier or ant, what’s the fucking difference? I cried.
Amy what are you doing?
I hated myself for this monstrous act. Humbled, I guess. Changed and I never killed again like this.
But what makes a human? What is special about this shape?
A child’s sneaker blocks the sun on its descent.
As a child, my friends and I concocted insecticide by combining the contents of various cleaning agents discovered in the cabinets of our parent’s houses. In small groups on the sidewalk we stared together at the labels, attempting to pronounce the names of the strange and chemical ingredients. The less pronounceable an ingredient, the more useful it became. If we couldn’t say it, we knew that it could kill.
Our favorite enemies were ants, perhaps the easiest of all the insects to pronounce. They were also the most common. Ants lived in our immediate vicinity, in our backyards, in the cracks of our sidewalks, in the woods behind our houses.
There is a moment in the spring when entire colonies of ants spill out of the ground, onto the sidewalks and the streets. It’s never been explained to me, but I remember the violence of these occurrences specifically, the bodies of the insects swarming on the ground in throngs, tearing each other into pieces. Come evening the sidewalks would be a speckled mess of carcasses, appendages, and shells. Sometimes I’d get on my hands and knees and watch the ants as they warred among themselves. I wondered how they knew which ant to kill and which not to. As a human child, every insect looks the same. The fact of ants destroying other ants confused me. This is another way of saying that violence is the property of difference.
Somedays language feels to me a form through which difference comes into the world and makes it over in the image of an opposite. To say what is and isn’t there, a violence necessarily created.
This, the ability to desire, imagine, implement, and give voice to violence at an early age, was one of the many ways by which we as kids began to understand ourselves as human. Though I have grown to resist the allure of this experience, I remember it both terribly and fondly. Still, the memory exists primarily as a kind of warning: Be weary of what you can and cannot say.
Housed within the world, the words we use exist as objects pointing onto/into others. Say “ant” for instance, say “anti-.” Who is hurt by this? What is made impossible? Bewildered by the texture and capacity of surfaces, the wordless depth of their interiors, we speak the names of things as a means to make them knowable. This knowledge is both a blessing and a curse.
Looking back, I should want to say that there was one ant in particular among my memory of all the others. An insect thriving in the light which got away.
rank and flack, scale flake, tribute tremolo, formation, assignation, troupe and fret, trapping light, cobalt shield, warming plate tremendous, lazy veteran counting grit, asterisk, antiquated, ancestor, senile saline on the inside, liquefied, chrysalis quilt, a milk sleeping bag, there’s no limbs rebuilt to wings, all’s granite, scratch and shift, valley of chiggers, mouth mount, web design, veils drawn down by sticks, webs popped by deer, broken bark shaft, the wolf spider relocated, a hike to the grass blades, wait, jump jarred and joy trellis, paths in menthol, feast fester, getting the spindle and spade, spawn, sporadic parade, enough was enough, enough was enough, feral to fetid to aphid, fainting, coughs, inch increment, alloy sun back, dazzle rack, minding own slack, mining badness, minding decay, dirt miracle, enough enough job, sham leaf, sham teeth, shower sedge, placid scout, solemn mandible, lamentable, ras-le-bol armor, acid, illusory quiet, illusory stillness, illusory solitude, what they would say, proxy transmission, mushrooms say in the trip their wish, to cover the earth, knobs over everything, arachnids over everything, motion over all, undercolony endurance, un-colonial esperance, cut off from the tribe, taken in with smother, ratchet face paint, branch camo, uncanny valor, too splendid, too black button, toward enough in the interim, enough étouffe, enough smothers, enough others yields enough knot now, knot now, enough was enough is no motto.