Drought: Spring 2017
Yes, let’s date this poem, date ourselves.
Ants have been sneaking in looking for water. Sometimes
I find them single-filing in and out of the antique bulb
glass I have on the kitchen’s windowsill.
There’s an avocado pit poked three times with toothpicks,
the plastic ones, the ones of circus colors, half-submerged.
But the pit doesn’t care. It will split and sprout if it’s a good one.
What makes one pit a producer while another just sits
in the bulb glass for weeks until I finally toss it to the garden
soil to rot?
The ones that birth a shoot, a green stem that unfolds slim
leaves, get coddled until roots spiral in the water under
the pit like grace drowning in blown-glass until I plant them.
Last night, on the lanai, I watched an ant carrying the dead body
of an insect equal in size on its ant back. We’ve heard the fact:
Ants are like Superman (so anthropomorphic, I know).
An Asian weaver ant holding a 500mg weight in its jaws won
a prize in a science photo competition. That’s 100 times
its body weight. What are men willing to lift to their backs?
The weight was made of metal, not food, and I wondered
what incentive motivated the creature to open its maw
to the challenge.
I played God with the ant on the table in the lanai. First,
I took a seashell from a ceramic tray with an apple-scented
candle in the center, and placed it in front of the burdened worker
until it took the path I placed before it. Do ants see?
I mean really, do they see? Do they look around and think
about what they see? Once on the shell, it roamed
the new landscape: It hesitated at a long groove, at a fissure,
then traversed the alpine-like spine of the small shell. I tried to think
how it must be for the ant: Moving quickly across the smooth surface
of the patio table with its payload, then suddenly in foreign territory.
I brought out the magnifying glass to get a closer look, and felt uncomfortable
holding such power, to be so big, controlling a being so small.
Still, I upped the challenge and placed the shell with the navigating
ant in the dish that held the candle. Rain had finally come that afternoon,
after the driest April on record since 1898.
The ant’s options were two: Continue to walk the shell under the pressure
or leave dry, high-ground and swim for an uncertain shore.
It never left the shell and I tired of playing God.
This morning I thought about the ant and what motivates
them to work. Not money, not fame. Prestige? Do ants haul
their prize finds to the colony to be hailed a hero?
I googled “ants lifting more than their weight” and read “the neck joint
of a common American field ant can withstand pressures up to 5,000 times
greater than its own body weight.”
Researchers from Ohio State University found the creatures exceeded
initial estimates. To prove this, they took the ants apart.
Out of benevolence, researchers first refrigerated the ants,
a crude anesthesia. An Allegheny mound ant, specifically, was disassembled.
“Reverse-engineering,” the researcher termed it. Glued into place on a centrifuge measured
the force necessary to deform the neck and separate the head from the body.
“Like a spinning carnival ride where passengers are pinned to the wall
of the ride by centrifugal force as the floor
drops out from beneath them.”
As the mechanism spun, with their heads glued in place on the floor
of the centrifuge, the ants’ bodies were pulled outward
until their necks ruptured.
Researchers said the hope is to understand the mechanics of ant anatomy
and its ability to withstand force to aid in robotic design.
I think of refugees in boats off the coast of Greece, the fry-machine
teen, or middle-aged white man, flipping a grease-dripping basket, working
the evening shift sans sick days, and migrant field-workers moving
through rows of tomato plants in San Joaquin’s verdant valley. Hoards
of workers on paths muddled with, muddied, and washed away. Let’s call it a date,
date ourselves, eat dates under palm trees. Let’s test ourselves: Glue heads
of state to the floor of a centrifuge
and spin until their ears pop and they listen. Let’s boycott luxury.
Let’s stop dreaming we’re in an episode of Dancing with the Stars.
Let’s shout “Stop playing God.”
Humansong of Tooth & Hardness
You four, thick-hipped, float
In a quasi-terrazzo
Heaven. Your own creations.
Are you on vacation or refugees?
See, what I love is the-not-telling
From what you never give me.
Are you singing, O Papa? Note me,
Float me with you in your non-specific
Material of marble chips and quartz.
The baby slung against your belly
Is an ocean against my mind this morning. Ebbing.
Tiny baby, small soft-boned brow
Like a glistening shrimp de-veined.
I can’t see your wedding rings or faces,
But the heavy legs of your madonna tells
Me she stands at the sink each day praying
You come home to her rice dishes & cuidado.
See, O Papa, how her collar bones have softened
To the song of housework? See how her dress
Is already a two-starred night-wind upon you?
Think how your rossi-hair has stained your daughter,
See how it hurts her mottled head, conflicts
The squamous tissue of her skirt? Why pink?
Why skirts upon your women? You’ve poured
Them into place, ground them, & polished off
Their features to match your own. Sealed.
Like a Christian relic I see you as an antiquated object.
Are you singing, O Papa? Have you set your teeth
Against the patriarchal grindstone? I give fitting thanks
For your soft-boned songs and all your cardinal fury.