Ant

by Matthew Francis

after Robert Hooke, Micrographia

All afternoon a reddish trickle
       out of the roots of the beech
               and across the lawn,
a sort of rust that shines and dances.
       Close up, it proves to be ant,
               each droplet a horned
traveller finicking its way round
       the crooked geometry
               of a grass forest.
A finger felled in their path rocks them,
       amazed, back on their haunches.
               I see them tasting
the air for subtle intelligence,
       till one ventures to scale it,
               and others follow.

They are fidgety subjects to draw.
       If you sink the feet in glue
               the rest twists and writhes;
kill one, the juices evaporate
       in seconds, leaving only
               the shrivelled casing.
I dunked one in brandy. It struggled
       till the air rose from its mouth
               in pinprick bubbles.
I let it soak an hour, then dried it,
       observed the spherical head,
               the hairlike feelers,
the grinning vice of its sideways jaw,
       the coppery armour plate
               with its scattered spines.

Some draught stirred it then. It rose to all
       its feet, and set off across
               the rough miles of desk.