Poems by Katie Kemple
Ants leave their dead for two days
before the body is carried to a graveyard,
or so the experts on the Internet write,
leaving me to wonder which ants
do that? Fire ants, or leafcutter ants,
or the tiny brown ants that explore
my house in September? And what
of this graveyard that’s also described
as a pile of dead bodies? They say it
takes two days because the ants don’t
know the body’s dead until it releases
oleic acid. Humans have been known
to walk by dead humans, not knowing
they were dead, or not caring. Humans
also came up with the insidious test:
put oleic acid on a live ant and watch
it struggle as another ant carries it
to the grave. When an ant perceives
a dead ant, it alters her day. No longer
following the scent of food, obligation
takes its place. She counter clocks the
body back to its grave. When my father
had a heart attack, he called 911 for
help. But I didn’t find that out until I
was at the grocery store, putting items
down the conveyor belt, the cashier
ringing up chicken, apples, and ice cream.
I said to the lady on the phone: “Is
everything alright?” “No,” she replied.
I took a plane back to New York. His
body on ice, then processed and delivered
in a lap-sized box. At the graveyard,
his military headstone came with an
expiration date. I thought of his habit
of eating expired foods. He would sniff
containers, trusting his senses first.
We opened the earth’s lid and buried
him there. And then, I marched back,
I got on the plane to California again.
I returned to my regular job and tasks.
I placed myself down the conveyor
belt. At the grocery store, I checked out.
My dad would pick up hitchhikers on the drive
to the mall, he knew them all. Past students
from the VoTech where he worked as a special
ed teacher. Young men with hair sprayed
mullets and ripped jeans, wearing faded t-shirts
of their favorite bands: Metallica, AC/DC,
Guns N’ Roses, maybe. These guys, so polite
to my dad, would sit in our car with respect,
like a road sign in a weedy lot before a train
track: Dead End. Yield. Stop. Like a rubber band
in the pocket, like a colorful bit of gum stuck
beneath a desk, like a stray bullet that forgot
to have a target. I mean. I mean? I was mean,
but my dad was not. He knew their names,
he knew all about them, asked questions, or
didn’t. Most often, we all sat in silence. I think
he thought he was picking himself up, my dad.
Katie Kemple is a poet based in Southern California. Her poems have been published by Rattle, Rust + Moth, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Whale Road Review, among others.