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Carpenter Ants

arrived in ones and twos, and then by quincunx and phalanx
from out of the beautiful drawer, behind the oblate
knob of the dresser that Jessie brought home
from a yard sale whose proprietor couldn't stop talking
about his sons entrepreneurial verve; with its durable
materials and grownup color scheme
of teak and malachite, this hardwood
conversation piece would fit our house
just right. We left it out by the front stairs.

We have plans for that house, for Nathan and for Cooper: today one draws,
one tries to prevent his brother from drawing, pictures of imaginary wars,
the War of Independence
of Nathan's Country, for example, whose streaky
pinks and coppery greens
are cannonballs, tracer shots, or anachronistic—
he's just picked up the word "anachronistic"—
ballast for medieval siege machines.

Achilles, whose refusal
to go back to war is the core
of the Iliad and of Roger Lancelyn Green's
adaptation for children, The Story of Troy,
commanded his own platoon, called
Myrmidons because they resembled ants
not so much in their exoskeletal
greaves and pentangular helmets as in their ability
to fight and act as one.

And in first grade, curriculum (Latin: what
circulates, as in what comes around
must go around) has just as much to do,
we learn, with lining up and staying put
and taking your turn, as with finding new pictures or words.
Without it, the kids would get lost
on any field trip, playground, flight of stairs.
You couldn't send them anywhere.

The ants add to their numbers
as we watch, and the drawer divides
to let them out: 2, 3, 5, 8, 13,
parading away from their own
unreadable history. The desk
has stood in our driveway since noon, turning
greener in rain. Using nearly exhausted
permanent markers, we make
a less-than-permanent sign—
FREE; WARNING: ANTS—on cardstock, fix each edge
to a table leg with duct tape the color of bronze,
then leave it outside, hoping somebody else
who knows what to do independently will take it in.

Stephen Burt

Michigan Quarterly Review

Summer 2013

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