The Carpenter Ant

Terrance Hayes

It was when or because she became two kinds
of mad, both a feral nail biting into a plank
and a deranged screw cranking into a wood beam,
the aunt—I shouldn’t say her name,

went at the fullest hour of the night,
the moon there like an unflowered bulb
in a darkness like mud, or covered in darkness
as a bulb or skull is covered in mud,

the small brown aunt who, before she went mad,
taught herself to carpenter and unhinged,
in her madness, the walls she claimed
were bugged with a tiny red-eyed device

planted by the State or Satan’s agents, ghosts
of atheists, her foes, or worse, the walls
were full of the bugs she believed crawled
from her former son-in-law’s crooked mouth,

the aunt, who knows as all creatures know,
you have to be rooted in something tangible
as wood if you wish to dream in peace,
took her hammer with its claw like a mandible

to her own handmade housing humming,
“I don’t know why God keeps blessing me,”
softly madly, and I understood, I was with her
when the pallbearers carried a box

made of mahogany from her church to a hearse
to a hole in the earth, it made me think
of the carpenter ant who carries within its blood
an evolved self-destructive property, and on its face

mandibles twice the size of its body,
and can carry on its back, as I have seen on tv,
a rotted bird or branch great distances
to wherever the queen is buried--Kingdom:

Animalia, Phylum: Arthropoda, Tribe: Camponotini,
the species that lives on wood is, like mud, rain,
and time, the carpenter’s enemy, yes,
but I would love to devour the house I live in

until it is a permanent part of me,
I would love to shape, as Perumthachan,
the master sculptor, carpenter and architect
of India is said to have shaped, a beautiful tree

into the coffin in which I am to be buried,
I know whatever we place in a coffin, the coffin
remains empty, I know nothing buried is buried,
I don’t know why God keeps blessing me,

I don’t know why God keeps blessing me.

Last updated November 10, 2022