Lord knows it’s easy to fall in love
with cicadas and katydids, day and night
tuning me in to the Southern Cross,
soundtrack for Englishwoman Abroad.
Pollen-collecting clouds of native bees,
stingless, also sweeten my squeamish heart.
Harder to summon kindness for the ants,
a segmented phalanx queuing up on
the kitchen windowsill to come forage
for whatever looks tasty to an ant –
a whisker of catfood smiling on a spoon,
the tiniest lick of apricot jam;
a crust of raisin bread, the agreed HQ.
Or outdoors, crawling between my toes,
up my arms – an unacceptable degree
of wriggle – to bite down, unprovoked,
on tender flesh with practised mandibles.
The way they file so industriously
one behind the other offends my view
of things, anthropocentric, programmed
to Individual Freedom. I could
maybe learn some ant manners, division
of labour, cooperative spirit.
But my stung right wrist has swelled to the size
of a large library (if you were an ant) and
their creeping looks too much like words
appearing on a screen of their own accord,
words I can’t read, inverted, experimental.
I could be more curious, attend more
closely, study ant grammar, the conditional.
It’s a long path, aspiring to love the ant,
sugar ant, bull ant, even the yellow crazy ant.
Gentler to tread if I remember how they help
half the plants here in Australia
spread: the way a shift will drag a seed
to their underground nest, feed their young
and devour what flesh is left; leave the germ
to settle, in its own time, take root, long
after the ant employed in such labour
has ascended to wherever ants gather
to lie down and rest. And that’s, let’s face it,
before I even consider the cockroach,
its unforgivable nocturnal slang.
Linda France lives close to Hadrian’s Wall, in the UK. Since Red (Bloodaxe, 1992), she has published seven poetry collections; her latest is You are Her (Arc, 2010). Recurring themes are place, gardens and plants and Linda is currently working on a new book based on Botanic Gardens, including Sydney.