Poems You Might Have Missed: The Ants by Matthew Rohrer

The first stanza of this poem, composed of a single sentence that is eight lines long, steals your breath. It is as if you’re the one slowly dying from exposure to toxic mushroom spores. The terse imperatives (“forage”, “chew”, etc.) in the second line of the second stanza create a nice contrast to the poem’s grueling first sentence. By the concluding stanza, the poem engrosses me as much as the children’s science magazine engrosses the speaker of the poem. Lastly, I love how the solemnity found throughout most of the poem–exoskeletons breached, sinister spores, and unfinished life pursuits–contrasts with that surprising jolt back into the reality of the final lines.

ant
Image Credit: David P. Hughes via Gemma Reguera

The Ants 

Nothing is more important to the ant
whose exoskeleton has been breached
by mushroom spores that are now
controlling his nervous system
and compelling him to climb to a high leaf
only to die and release the spores
over the whole forest
than this poem about his sad plight.

Otherwise his life is meaningless.
Forage. Chew. Recognize by scent.
Abdication of the will. A huge wind
that comes and sweeps his fellows
off the grass. When he dies up there
in the treetops the mushroom grows
right out of his head and breaks open
lightly dusting the afternoon.

Everything he thought he was here
on Earth to do has been left undone.
Through the trees
the spores move on their sinister ways.
I put down the science magazine written
for elementary school kids
in which I have briefly disappeared.

– From Surrounded by Friends by Matthew Rohrer published by Wave Books, 2015.

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