Some Ants For Henry Thoreau

By Ralph Black

It wasn’t the light this morning, edgy as it was.
And it wasn’t the air the light edged through, dazzling
if familiar, churning with the scent of new leaves.
It wasn’t even three or four other things
that it might have been, most of them nondescript
little ruins, tiny brilliances…It was the dumb luck
of my daughter leaving half a plastic Easter egg
on the front walk, a green one, inside of which
was 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 back
along 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 starting
to 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 nod
their 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, this
is 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 farthest
branch, 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 are
a long time cold beneath the thawed Concord dirt. I am sorry
to be so long in writing. Winter has been hard
on 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 world
from 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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