By Mary Kane
I heard on the radio yesterday that scientists conducted an experiment recently on a variety of desert ants and found that they have some kind of internal pedometer that measures distance to food sources, and it is this system of measurement along with a kind of celestial navigation that helps them get where they need to go. In the experiment some ants were given leg extensions, like stilts, while others had part of their legs amputated, and those with longer legs marched past their destination while the amputees stopped far short of the same goal. Articles about this phenomenon don’t spend much time on the cruelty of amputation or on how miraculous it is that the amputees continued to march at all. Anyway, remember that book you recommended to me 19 years ago? Well I’m finally reading it. Yeah, just yesterday I remembered how all those years ago you were visiting and we were all sitting at the dining room table eating baked ziti, one of my husband’s specialties that year, crispy on top, with fresh tomatoes, abundant garlic, all that ricotta and mozzarella and fresh herbs, and you mentioned, your throat moving inside your neck, still showing signs of having just swallowed a bite, that I ought to check out a book of stories you had read recently. Scanning my memory files, I realize that may be the last time we actually had a conversation and it wasn’t much of a conversation, but it was enough to make me desire you at the time since books are my primary love and anyone who recommends one that I might appreciate and does so with their neck exposed the way yours was, right there, so out in the open it could have been blasting out trumpet sounds only it was pretty quiet, your neck, but rough and a little red from shaving, and so tangible, so begging to be touched, or scratched, is likely to elicit longing in me. Yes, that’s it, I longed for just a second to scratch your neck but not angrily, erotically I think, though it’s also true I may be making all of this up since all I really remember from that dinner was the ziti and the bricks behind you, the way the bricks from the fireplace made a dark backdrop that began to swallow your outline so you seemed to dissipate before my very eyes, or maybe not dissipate but grow more distant or less detailed, more a part of something larger and less clearly yourself. More importantly I suppose, I watched your words travel across towards me, leaving your lips to set out on their journey through the air between us and they came out in a perfect line, those words of yours. Each word was broken into its component letters, and each letter was like an ant marching across the table to me, only they didn’t march across the actual table, they marched in the air above the table. Not only did they march across the air to me, but that line of ants mentioning a book I might like to read have continued marching for 19 years, making circles around me, sometimes veering off for months or even years at a time, heading to an anthill or library or wherever there are bits of bread or bagel about, under the counter or near the trash can, sometimes under the stove, where that drawer comes out and it’s tough to get the broom or vacuum, or maybe they’ve been finding far off cream of wheat grains since once I heard you could lead ants away that way, and then, after their long march-about, they came back yesterday of all days, and one little ant step at a time they marched right into my right ear and into my brain and drove me so crazy I had to hop in the car and go straight to the library to relieve the itchy tickling feeling those darned ant words were making in my brain after all this time, and it’s a good thing too and that’s why I’m writing to you to tell you, thanks, I like it, I like it a lot. It’s a good book.
Mary Kane’s writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Roanoke Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Daily, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Prose Poem Journal, Hiram Poetry Review and other journals. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry (She Didn’t Float, Harlequin Ink, and After We Talk About the Recent Deaths of Our Parents and About Compassion as Handled by Chekhov, Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press) as well as one full-length poetry collection, Door (One Bird Books). She lives on Cape Cod where she can often be found walking.