The first stanza of this poem, composed of a single sentence that is eight lines long, steals your breath. It is as if you, not the ant, is 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 fascinates as much as the the children’s science magazine fascinates the poem’s speaker. The lines “Everything he thought he was here / on Earth to do has been left undone” serve as a warning: get busy with the goals of your life before it’s too late. Lastly, I love how the solemnity found throughout most of the poem–breached exoskeletons, sinister spores, and unfinished life pursuits–contrasts with the final lines that jolt us back into reality.
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.