Ant Language

Linda France

 

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.

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