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, literally 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 I was as engrossed in the poem as the speaker was in the children’s science magazine that led to the genesis of the poem itself. 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 reality in 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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