After Robert Hooke

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

traveler 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 shriveled 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 armor plate

with its scattered spines.

Some draft stirred it then. It rose to all
its feet, and set off across

the rough miles of desk.
Note to Poetry Out Loud students: This poem begins with an epigraph that must be recited. Omitting the epigraph will affect your accuracy score.

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