Sunday, November 22, 2015

Two poems from 1990, Newark, Delaware

I attended the Writers' Showcase at the Old Brick Theatre in Scranton last night. While I enjoyed all of the featured poets - especially Maggie Glbertson, whose poetry was as always incredibly brave and powerful - I was inspired by the autobiographical narrative poetry of Ali Pica to tell some stories from my own past using the medium of poetry. I thought of two stories I wanted to tell - one, an incident in my apartment in Newark, Delaware in the summer of 1990, and another, a description of working in a TV faceplate factory in the summers of my college years.

I sat down today to write these out, but a third poem came out, based on something I thought about one day while working at AstroPower, a solar cell manufacturer (which today would be termed a "startup" company) that I signed on with after my single, disastrous semester of grad work at the University of Delaware.

I finally did write out one of the other poems. So here they are! First, or at least early, drafts of them.

(By the way: I will be one of the featured readers at the February 27, 2016 edition of the Writers' Showcase! Be there if you can!)


Coffee for roses

the dead go into the pile
leaves and blades of grass
eggshells and vegetable scraps
rotten fruit from the crisper

lobster tails from a New Year's feast
coffee grounds from breakfasts shared
the dried-out husks of a bouquet of flowers
from back when the world was a little bit brighter
back when the smiles came a little bit easier

all go in the pile

bacteria have their way
heat builds, killing seeds
air and water feed the decay
memories consumed by slow fire

and when it is done
when the past has been reduced to small black crumbs
I will take it from the pile
work it into the soil
and plant next year's garden

The ants of Newark, Delaware

When I was renting a room in a townhouse
in Newark, Delaware in the summer of 1990
our kitchen was invaded by ants
a small army of them, little brown things
marching in a line from the back yard
across the concrete patio
through the track of our sliding glass door
across the 70's-era linoleum
up the wooden counter
across the formica counter top
and up the wall into our cabinets

I found them fascinating, and wanted to study them
one housemate wanted to eradicate them
another wanted to deter them gently,
break their trail with peppermint oil
(she was a bit of a hippie, but had a cute girlfriend)

We tried her idea. It didn't work.
Neither did vinegar, or bleach, or baking soda.
The ants kept marching, undeterred by our efforts to protect our food
I stopped being fascinated when I found that they
had worked their way into the threads of a jar of peanut butter
and into the peanut butter itself

I rode off to the supermarket and bought three different types of ant traps
three different brands, in case the ants found one or another unappealing
I placed them every few feet along their track
not just in the house, but outside as well, along the concrete patio,
along the trail that led to the lawn

They didn't work, at first. The ants walked around them, or over them,
unwilling to take the bait
and carry it off to the nest
to poison their queen
and all the other ants

And then, after three days, no more ants.
The ants were gone. Stopped. Dead? I wasn't sure.
But they weren't in our kitchen anymore,
weren't raiding our pantry anymore
weren't getting into my peanut butter anymore

I left the traps out for a few more days
then brought in the ones from outside, before they got rained on
I picked up one and wondered if it had worked
or if the ants had suddenly lost interest and moved on

when I saw that the holes were plugged
with little slivers of plants, no bigger than sawdust
bits of grass or bark or stems
cut and carried from somewhere
carried to the ant trap, the little puck with holes in the sides
filled with poison bait for the ants to carry back to the colony
did they know that this was why they were dying?
did they realize that this was the source of their doom?
did they seal it off in an attempt to save themselves?

Did it work?
Did the poison kill the queen and the entire colony?
Did they seal up the trap and move on?

I never found out. I threw out the trap, washed my hands,
and checked the peanut butter for ants.

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