Mary M. Brown


In the morning
mother calls to tell us
she's been bitten in her bed again
by ants, and can't we come and do
something? And so we come and do
not make the pancake breakfast
we have planned.

Such commotion is routine.

Though we know
it's no solution, we stop
to buy her lotion for the bites,
to ease the sting. And instead
of hello, she greets us with:
That doesn't work, you know.

We are relieved
that we have thought
of drive-thru coffee:
it quiets her. She sighs and
lets us teach her again to tear
the tab away. And today
the coffee is not too hot,
not too cold. She holds the cup
in her hands like a warm world.

But between sips
she remembers the ants
and shows us the bites on her thighs
where her skin is thin as the broth
she fixes herself on days
when her teeth don't fit.

We say how sorry we are
as if we have bitten her ourselves.

Then we begin:
we strip the sheets,
pull out the bed, check the corners
of the room where we have laid the traps,
the poison in the little caps.

Around them lie the victims
of our last revenge: tiny
black beasts, armies slain.
We squint to see a hint
of life: But no, mom, no, they
do not move.

Then we haul out
the vacuum and suck up dead ants
while mother rubs the rude
red blotches on her legs. She
makes it clear the ants can't
all be dead: I'm telling you
they bite me in my bed.

And we don't tell her
what we know: that the ants
live only to find her. Only
to find and bite

our old and lonely mother
in the middle of the night.


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