by Emily Benton
“This leaf-cutter ant species is all female and thrives without sex of any kind—ever—according to a new study. The ants have evolved to reproduce only when queens clone themselves” — National Geographic News, April 2009
Of course, we missed them when gathering the trash, having someone
around to fix things, to steal leaves closer to the sun. But it was we
who carried our young, who held their white hearts like pearls
passed down from our grandmother—and it was she
who taught us the work. Her antennae were our guide to a land without
angry mounds, brown and soft like the earth we were born into.
After the war, she told me my father, one of the last, led a march from field
to forest—that he found a rotting vole under the barren oak tree.
She said, Survival can’t have distractions, can’t have doubts. I’ve heard
the doe huffs for her buck when he’s fallen to the shot—that she flies
over the creek bed with more gallantry than a gun. Each morning
I wake to the dove’s call from her roost. But I tell myself
I am still part of a whole, and my daughters will know of tradition.
At day’s end, their limbs will share my weight of a thousand pounds.
We keep moving, our mouths loosening the dirt.
We eat our way to the center. We find our way back out.
Emily A. Benton is a 2011 graduate of the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she taught undergraduate poetry courses and served as a poetry editor for The Greensboro Review. Her work has most recently appeared in Marco Polo, Cellpoems, and Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art.