Elizabeth Oxley is a poet living in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. She studied languages and literature at Franklin University Switzerland, Brown University, and Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in journals including Crosswinds, Frontier, The Poetry Review, Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac, Peregrine, and Ruminate. She was the winner of the 2019 Frontier Industry Prize for “After April Rain.” Say hello at www.ElizabethOxley.com.
The Ant Queen's Children
I meant no harm when I burned them
with a magnifying glass, wishing only to know
if it were true: you could channel sunlight.
Prometheus gave humans fire, and for this,
goes the story, he was tormented by an eagle.
The ants shriveled. My father was a doctor.
After he divorced my mother, I sat in the dirt
of his yard, squishing ants between glass slides,
slipping them beneath his microscope.
Families are strange creatures: whole one day,
broken the next. At my father’s desk,
I examined ant armor, pointy swords of their hairs,
too young to consider I caused them pain.
What have you learned? the elders might ask
in the afterlife. I picture everyone there:
elephant gods, the dog king. We are sitting
in a circle, on folding camp chairs like those
on summer sale at McGuckin’s Hardware.
When the ant queen turns her gaze on me,
I’ll apologize and explain how I’ve grown.
Through my father’s strong lens, I saw features
invisible to my naked eye. What, I later wondered,
could I not hear with my naked ears,
not feel with naked hands? I am certain now
everything is conscious. If you understand me,
I bet you’re the type who kisses your cat
good night. When your daughter calls you
to her room because a bee is trapped inside,
beating its head against her pane, I bet you
cover the bee with a Tupperware bowl and carry her
to the garden you keep meaning to weed,
where habaneros grow despite you. You shake the bee
free on a bed of mint, because you hear and do not hear her
say she is hungry, she is tired. She is buzzing
like something gone haywire. You understand—
you resemble her in this. You could be sisters.
Trailing the mower, I survey downed bodies
of dandelions—heaps of soldiers
conjured by my favorite books:
lady detectives in post-WWI England.
One lost her sweetheart at the Somme,
another drove an ambulance close
to those killing fields. I do not wish to subdue
my yard, prefer to leave it wild,
but that simply isn’t done in this neighborhood.
Across the alley, my neighbor Frank
builds a stone wall to guard his dahlias.
On Francis Street, Ron lights his grill
behind a border of ruby tulips. I was raised
with a fear of imposition. (As I see it, dandelions
don’t grow in my yard—I reside in a house
upon theirs. Who am I to run them out?)
Ron throws on steaks, chars the air
with the scent of fire and flesh. I march up
and down, up and down. Pushing the mower
to the garage, I bend to tighten my boots
and catch sight of rogue flowers sheltering
beneath the lilac hedge. Senseless battles
never end. I’ll be out here again next week,
murmuring apologies as I strike them down,
trenching the fence line with the weed eater
before beating it back inside for a smoke.
One day, you say the sun must be dumbstruck
to see me waking so late. I can’t abide
the world’s accumulation of voices and alarms—
feel most at ease when the house is daubed
in morning darkness and sunlight seeps
through acute angles of purple leaf plum.
We drive into mountains on a Sunday, dogs
gazing out windows, sensing our destination.
I wonder sometimes if you miss them: parties,
guests streaming through your kitchen.
You were an eager host in days we still behaved
as individuals. To what degree do I weigh you down?
(Do not say, and I’ll not ask.) We act often now
as one body—I know your Chinese takeout order
by heart, you change the station until we’re both happy
to land on Van Morrison. Parked at the creek,
you follow our dogs mid-stream and anchor to a rock.
Grinning, your face records a full measure
of sunlight. You call out while I kneel on the bank
beneath a boulder’s spire—cool cathedral
casting voiceless shadows over ground: one-half
the magnetic marriage of silence and sound.