Antbed

Gavin’s story

You may remember my father
died when I was eight
my mother closed up
the house and we went to stay
with my grandmother for a few months

I wasn’t fully aware of my father’s death
I was quite happy that summer
aunts and uncles felt sorry for me
treated me kindly I was given a puppy
the two of us roamed
freely the countryside

When my mother and I returned
to our house and this
is the point of my story
there was an antbed one and a half
feet high two feet wide
in the middle of our living room

The ants who must have sensed
the house was unoccupied
by humans had carried the dirt
grain by grain from the yard
through the cracks between the floorboards
and across the thick-piled carpet
to build a spectacular pyramid
a temple to the puritanical gods
of organization and blind work

I got down on my knees
and watched a line of the black insects
struggling toward the city of their making
each worker carrying a tiny pebble
or a bit of food a butterfly wing
or a breadcrumb one little guy
was shoving a moth a hundred times
his size across the top
of the piles of carpet a feat
I imagined akin to a man
maneuvering a downed Learjet
across the top of a rainforest

Three inches away a line of workers
empty-handed so to speak
marched in the opposite direction
on a parallel highway my admiration
for these civilized insects
was immense their city must have taken
ten generations to build

I imagined the intricate and sublime
architecture labyrinthine passages
winding down to a golden chamber
where the giant queen sat
in her magnificent perpetual
pregnancy attended
by telepathic nurses who knew
the shifting temperature of her moods

While I was roaming the fields
around my grandmother’s house unaware
of time passing an entire civilization
with poetry heroes and commerce
had risen in the shadow of our china-cabinet

My mother was less impressed
with the civilization that had sprung up
in our living room she immediately called
an exterminator I burst into tears
as white-suited men shoveled away
the antbed poisoning the inhabitants
I imagined the screams of the victims
as they watched their homes crumbling
their young dying

With the antbed cleared away
and the carpet restored to its original
sterility I felt
my father’s death for the first time
he would not be coming through the door
with a baseball glove or an atlas
as a gift to make up for his absence

He would not be sitting in his easy chair
reading the newspaper asking my opinion
on world events considering
my answers carefully he was not
in the garage fixing the toaster-oven
or in the yard pruning the apple tree
or in the kitchen gently teasing my mother
out of her anger I would not ever again
be visiting him in the hospital

On Saturday we brought flowers
to his grave and I tried
with all my inconsequential strength
to straighten the gravestone which always
seemed to lean toward the north
into the wind and storm and snow


Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash

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