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POEM BY TERRANCE HAYES


THE CARPENTER ANT



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.


poem copyright Terrance Hayes, 2013. 

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