“Ants” by Tim Seibles

Tim Seibles


Sometimes you’ll see one
far from any yard, maybe 
on a bookshelf, Barnes 
& Noble—third floor 
of the mall—or somehow 
whipping across town 
with you in your car. 
There it is: stepping along 
the dusty dashboard
antennae askew, six tiny feet
marking a nearly straight line
pausing once       twice as if trying
to remember a missed turn
but without panic, though 
it’s probably hungry 
and a little pissed
and desperate for the lean 
chemical trail of its colony kin
who by now are a million
ant miles away, just beginning 
to notice that you-know-who 
hasn’t been seen for a while.  
Maybe their feelers twitch 
with grief or a little envy. 
Saw one today 
on the basketball court
and wished I could believe
what that ant believed
with those fancy sneaks
flashing all around.
Years ago, in Philadelphia—
Sharpnack Street: row houses
block after block, paint peeling
on the porches, one faded address
after another—I was looking
for Donna’s house.
She had the biggest afro 
in the city and a smile 
like a lead singer 
taking the mike: Donna Lee, 
the girl I called a “tackhead” 
back in 7th grade because 
no one had told me
what puberty could do.  
I must’ve had the street wrong
and soon found myself deep
in the turf held by The Clang,
tough guys mostly my age 
and always ready to move 
on a stranger, and I knew
those dudes didn’t know me. 
But I just kept walking 
while the dark flickered 
with the streetlights
starting to buzz and the city
like a black leather jacket.
I was sixteen, away 
from home with nobody 
bossing me around, lost
in a night that might have
gone on forever.
I felt that way again today 
wandering a neighborhood 
that should’ve been familiar 
but nothing is anymore:
not these pocked streets
and untrimmed hedges 
not my own busy head
tuning up every fear—
not even my country
though I was born here
almost 70 years ago, but what 
should I do? What can anybody 
actually do       but keep on walking.

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Tim Seibles: “The way ant colonies are organized, the fact that they predate humanity by millions of years, and the everywhere-ness of these tiny beings has always fascinated me. This poem began when I noticed an ant on the fifth floor of my apartment complex; I still can’t figure out how it got there—maybe as a passenger on someone’s pants leg. I write poetry because life is both wondrous and poignant, and I feel compelled to celebrate what amazes me and to decry what wounds the world.” (web)

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