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"Antlion" by Eric Ormsby

 

Antlion

Beneath your shoe soles there's a beautiful
concavity of sand, a symmetrical
funnel the width of a small boy's thumb.
It looks expertly smooth. Precarious
sand grains have been set to slide
whenever a plodding ant's insouciance
pitches it down that soft declivity.
The owner of the pit abides down there,
a drab predator the color of
quarry rock, old spackle, gypsum, slate;
earth-colored, with the shadows of the earth,
it snugs down in the hollow of its snare.

At night, in childhood, I would sometimes dream
of the panicky scrambles of a slipping ant,
its scurrying despair that swept it down
irresistibly along the volatile sand.
The way that dreams deceive you the ant fell,
and I, asleep, felt falling, too,
through filmy floorboards, into avalanche
as the heart-stopped terror of my helpless dream
tossed me to the soft mouth of the pit.

There, with bristling jaws, the antlion
wiggled out of ambush, rushed to hug
me, its frantic victim, in its grip. That,
too, had the horrible embrace of dream
where you choke those you love, or they choke you,
and everything takes place mechanically
despite the shrieked beseeching of your will.

Even in dream I couldn't follow down
to where the flinching victim had been tugged
beneath the dirt, and yet
the antlion's prompt return was even more
terrible for being miniature:
there's a proprietary fussiness,
meticulous, almost suburban, as
the little killer scrapes its whirlpool smooth.

 

© 1992 Eric Ormsby. Reproduced with the author's permission.

Eric Ormsby was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Florida. His first poetry collection, Bavarian Shrine and Other Poems, won the 1991 QSPELL Poetry Prize, and in the following year he received an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award for "outstanding work as a poet." His poems have appeared in most of the major journals in Canada, England, and the U.S., including The New Yorker, The New Republic, Paris Review, Descant, and Parnassus. ("Antlion" first appeared in The New Yorker.) Ormsby now resides in Montreal, where he is a professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University.


References

Experience Literature—Poetry. Experience Literature: Reading and Writing the Human Experience, seventh edition. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz, with Peter Richardson. 1998. Bedford/St. Martin's. Online edition [web page no longer available].

Ormsby, Eric. For a Modest God: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press Poetry Series). 1997. New York: Grove/Atlantic.

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