They Would Have Us Be Ants and other poems by Lydia Renfro


I will remember for you some life when I was young.

Cicadas plagued our summer home then,
Singing us to sleep with their dusky timbal orchestras,
Crowding doors and porches in masses
Until they died when August grew fat and old.
The little ones seized trees and doorframes,
Swelling into big ones, shedding the skin of former things.
The husks which could hold them no more
Built cemeteries of bug skeletons on our house.

Sometimes, my sisters and I would gather handfuls of vacant bodies
And crush the molted casings with our fingers,
wondering why the creature left herself behind,

A thousand hours ago, my spirit stretched
Aching to contain all existence wide about me.
Unrequited life is a builder of shells, it
Cracks with the slow ticking of and then, and then

But here’s the plainsong,
The great secret our grandmother taught us: 
Vacated means loosed, unbound. Girls, my girls, my honeys,
Grow out of agedness into renewal, garden fresh and crisp.

When it’s time to die, the rest will blow away. 

They Would Have Us Be Ants
There’s no such thing as death
Only oleic acid.
She’s been lying there, two days,
Decaying, waiting for
Someone to take notice. 
And when it happens,
The noticing,
There aren’t sullen goodbyes, 
No time for pensive reflection.
Traffic in the building can’t 
Slow down,
Work to do. Thousands of 
Feet shuffling by until
Disposal of the carcass
Becomes necessary. 
The Mass 
Moves with one purpose
Get it out of here, a
Funeral procession of efficiency.

Duteously, the body is
Dumped into a pile of forgotten
Shells which once vibrated life.
A woman is a woman 
Until her coating changes.
All the women who came before
Don’t exist anymore and so 
They were never real. 
Keep about your work, women,
Ignore the bone pile 
In the corner. 

But Really, We Are Elephants
Come here honey, let us hold you.
With the last shakes of trying, it’s time to let go
You weren’t from around here, were you? We 
Can tell by your look, how your accent
Is giving up the ghost.
But you have breasts, and
We all have estrogen in varying amounts.
It’s okay to lie down here.
The Family
Will watch over you as you fold 
Out of your body,
Our circle sealing you tight.

Let us touch your bones,
Cover you in earth. 
Women know how to keep vigil, unwaveringly,
We know how to shut off the noise.
We won’t use words, just gentle touches
To remember your life for you,
To give you time to settle
Into the dust of your new bed.
Be still, darling, you’re with us now. 

Lydia Renfro is the recipient of the Donald Everett Axinn Award for Fiction.

About the contributor

Related Articles

Hawk by Sean Smith

Hawk  (for Sean McSweeney) We gathered in the stove-warmed kitchen after chasing down laneways,  picking frockens and blackberries,  that left us...

Peter Clive Poetry

A whisky grace I raise a glass to you, Lord: there is no fountain, no breath-taking conceit of ornamental marble spouting perfectly orchestrated jets and arcs of...

The scandalous mathematics of grace

Susan Howard writes about what affects her and what she observes in NZ and on the world stage.

More Like This

George Franklin, Poetry

George Franklin's Traveling for No Good Reason was the winner of the Sheila-Na-Gig Editions competition in 2018

Brian Rihlmann

Brian Rihlmann is published in Constellate Magazine, Poppy Road Review, The Rye Whiskey and others

Just a Few Poems – Daniel Senser

Daniel Senser has had works published in The Blue Nib, Festival Review, and Adelaide, among other journals..

The Window Scratchers by Iseult Healy

Iseult Healy is a member of Poets Abroad, Ox Mountain Poets, Sandy Fields and A New Ulster groups.

Ruth Gilchrist -Poems

Ruth Gilchrist is a Scottish based writer. A member of EyeWrite and Dunbar’s Writing Mums. “Writer of the Year 2015” Tyne and Esk. Ruth collaborates with museums, photographers, film poems, radio and musicians. Poems published in Snakesin and Scrivens webzines and the SouthBank poetry magazine Southlight and The Eildon Tree. Also in various anthologies, including the Federation of Writers Scotland.