Some Ants for Henry Thoreau

Ralph Black

It wasn’t the light this morning, edgy as it was.   And it wasn’t the air the light edged through, dazzlingif familiar, churning with the scent of new leaves.   It wasn’t even three or four other thingsthat it might have been, most of them nondescript   little ruins, tiny brilliances…It was the dumb luckof my daughter leaving half a plastic Easter egg   on the front walk, a green one, inside of whichwas a smaller, chocolate egg. Peering close,   I watched as several hundred pin-pointed ants,the color of willow bark or rained-on dirt,   swarmed the pink enamel like a universe of mouths.I know it’s spring on the Merrimack, and I know   in a few weeks I’ll begin each day by tracing backalong a line of ants, starting at the kitchen sink,   (some coffee grounds, crumbs swept from the bread board),then moving to the window sill, out   through an invisible crack, to the red brick just startingto gather warmth, down to the flagstones,   tracking the cord of them—insatiable! unrepentant!—and on toward the birdbath, the interwoven   hedge, the meadow where the cows nodtheir quiet assent. And then I lose them, Henry,   as I always do, in the uncut thistly weeds near the barn.To begin each day among the weeds, crouched   and hungry for a sign of complete desire, thisis my small prayer. To pull a blade of grass and watch   a single globe of dew fade and blink out.To follow the notes of a disappearing bird   out into the trees, up and out along the farthestbranch, laying my fingers against the pulse   of that blue-fletched, warbling throat.Such moments can kill a man, or startle him back   to his senses. It is Easter, my friend, and you area long time cold beneath the thawed Concord dirt. I am sorry   to be so long in writing. Winter has been hardon all of us here, taking half the trees in the orchard,   pinning us close to the warmth of mostly human fires.But the ants have returned to urge us back out,   carrying the great, sloughed-off fragments of the worldfrom one place to another. They are your ants,   dear Henry, always circling for the center,always gnawing, always pushing, always calling us   to bend close to their crafty, diligent shows.

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Ralph Black

Ralph Black was raised in Maryland and educated at the University of Oregon and New York University. His first collection of poems, Turning Over the Earth, was published by Milkweed Editions. He is also the author of a chapbook, The Apple Pslams. Black is the recipient of the Anne Halley Poetry Prize from The Massachusetts Review and the Chelsea Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in The Georgia and Gettysburg Reviews, Orion, and West Branch. He lives in Rochester, New York, and teaches at SUNY, College at Brockport.

At a time when the human ravages on the planet seem to be reaching a crescendo, the poems in Bloom and Laceration offer lamentations to a fragmented world and celebrations of beauty’s fierce persistence. Here are lyric poems on the vicissitudes of family played out against wild (and domesticated) nature. Here are long meditations on passing through, on glimpsing, on transience and transcendence. From Southern California to Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, to the south of France, and especially to the hills and woods of Upstate New York, Black’s poems are full of wonder and ferocity, exuberance and sorrow.

“By turns tender and serious, heartbroken and filled with heart, Ralph Black’s Bloom and Laceration is a praise song for the changing Earth, and for the families—human and otherwise—who populate it. . . . Those readers lucky enough to spend time with Bloom and Laceration will find pieces of these poems floating up later in the mind like the favorite lines to a hymn or psalm meant to make everyday life on this often-trying planet all the more bearable, and all the more holy.”
—James Crews

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