by Peter Rosenberger
A row of ants battles through heat and humidity,
trekking across the cracked sidewalk out front.
Sunlight spills into the creases of their ebony bodies
and glances off the sharper ridges back into the summer air.
Six-year-old me crushes one of the ants with my pointer finger.
Pointer outstretched, my hand hovers over the trail of ants,
and then I slowly, purposefully press my finger down,
grinding the insect’s brittle body into the sidewalk.
I could feel the sound it made
as the small, hard panels of its body broke off
and fell away to be crushed too.
Fragile but too small to spare, I must’ve thought.
The ants didn’t seem to mind.
Their line undulated, adjusting course.
A black crescent in what was their perfect path
twisted around the side of my finger.
I used to have a fort under the pine trees
for me and the other boys—
jagged tree-stump seats arranged
on the carpet of soft yet dangerous pine needles.
A blanket of sunlight was draped against the trees,
and only a lattice of light shone through
onto our earthly thrones
and the toy guns at our feet.
We imagined great hunting exhibitions,
with those guns as our instruments.
It was easy to pretend the guns’ hard plastic
was grained wood and black metal.
We’d shake the crab apples from the trees in the back—
bait for the deer that would fall into our guns’ sights.
We’d sneak around from the fort and wait.
Deer always came—even if we had to imagine them.
Bees would nest in the failing, red fence outside our fort.
They would buzz through and bother us.
We would sit motionless, baiting them too.
They’d land next to our stumps and we’d step on them.
The bumblebees, with only their gray and golden fur,
feel soft under our heels. But the wasps,
like the ants, with their rigid, alien shells
crack and crunch as we step on them.
Young boys are the best insecticide.
Crushing and stomping small things
to find a proper place in the midst
of bigger animals and tall trees.
But I could never kill a butterfly.
Orange monarchs and yellow swallowtails,
floating through the soft, blue sky,
were immune to me.
I could never kill a butterfly.
But if I could, I’d pluck its thin wings one at a time.
I’d pluck one and rub it into my palm
like I’d done with the heads of dandelions.
Then I’d pluck the other and place it on my tongue.
Bitter, it would dissolve and mix with my saliva.
With my eyes to the sky and my mouth open, I would stand
with that thin wing staining my tongue yellow, black, and brown.