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

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