Poetry Fiction 2009

Fire Ants

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Squatting in the coppery mud of the drainage ditch
behind my cousin’s house, we searched for fish,
saw none. We found a speckled frog instead,
unspooling a long, gelatinous thread
of black eggs in the water. Then fire ants—
my feet a blaze of pain, a fumbling dance,
and fact and memory begin to stutter.
What happened next? What curses did I utter?
And how did I ever get back over the fence?

I remember having a kind of reverence
for the whole affair: the pity I got, each bite
growing large and lustrous as a pearl, my tight
and swollen toes. I must have liked the pain.
What else would make me prod again, again?
A whole week hobbling barefoot on the lawn,
and still I missed the welts when they were gone.

Chelsea Rathburn’s first collection of poems, The Shifting Line, received the Richard Wilbur Award in 2005. She lives in Decatur, Georgia.
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