Aubade with Fire Ants and Gasoline
Dad’s shed was a paint chipped menagerie: Jim Dandy grits,
red jerrycans, hedge clippers, fishing poles. He used to pockmark
the earth, sprinkle grits grain by grain onto the fire ant mounds
that popped up in the backyard like roadside Motel 6s. Once
I asked Dad if the ants bit because they were hungry. Probably.
We’re bad hosts. If we don’t feed them they will go
to the next yard for a meal. But this is just a story Dad spooled
me in like a blanket after a nightmare. Kids at school said otherwise,
that the ants died; their abdomens, so small, bursting open like corn kernels
in a skillet when the dry grits expanded inside them during digestion. I learned
from this—from Dad—how to handle unpleasant truths. Years later,
the anxious hive that burrowed in my ears and stung my insides were secret
guests. Well-fed, they would leave soon, just like the very first ants,
the first time, the grapefruit sunrise of stings on my fingers that made
Dad buy the first box of grits. An anthill the honeypot that snatched
my little boy hands as they played in its basin. Then the itching, bubbling
scabs, stinging Ivy-Dry. By high school I learned that grits can’t kill ants,
that it’s an Old Wives’ tale. It made sense of the mornings Dad’s silhouette
grew against a window-staining fire. Those mornings Dad must have laid a blaze
upon the grits, the ant hills—Gomorrah razed by the rays of the rising sun.
And one morning, after I had discovered how to deal with them, Dad found
me framed in the shed doorway, gas saturating my hair, my canvas shoes.
In the fumes Dad’s red hair was real fire, his face the pink sun. When he ran
to me, I cast the grits like bones to say I was about to kill the ants, empty can
clasped in one hand, cigarette lighter a secret tucked into my back pocket.
Lucas Jorgensen is the 2019 recipient of Florida State University's Sassaman Undergraduate Creative Writing Award. In the fall he will be continuing his studies at New York University as an MFA poetry candidate. His other work is forthcoming in Golden Walkman Magazine.