Each time an ant is lost, pay attention. It is as stray money, hair in bread, an individual word, snatch of speech, parts of a larger understanding. Once I found one crossing a page of my book as I read in the car as we submarined the Channel c/o Eurostar. Although moving, this ant was dead—it would never find the pheromone-trail back to its mother. The lost ant is searching for its poem, it comes adrift when it crosses the noncrease knee, able to unwithstand the tide of information with clogged feet. I repressed an impulse: to drive home to release it onto the paving-stone-crack from whence it had climbed. Being in a tunnel made me think of the ants’ dwelling, how urban ants depend on crumb-droppings, how each spring tiny cones of dug-out clay are left outside our door. There is a city under the city. An antese epic recorded in an under-earth incunabulum archived in a deep antchamber describes finding a discarded kebab (one day I’ll write this). The same with words: find one lost and we have a duty to return it to its native environment, language, and its nest-mother, the poem. But usually we leave the word as found, weighed down by calls upon the particular; the extended holiday of not writing. A discourse is another person’s instrument, but in any bullet-point there is this pupal belonging, a smell-trail back through forests of grass to caves where the eggs are stacked against us. A city falls in the rain, the ants seize our grains. The tittled aristocrats are beheaded and restored as crowned unheads. Adjust the mot juste to get Saint-Just. Tomes jut. Saint Just dissembles to ‘Ant is just.’ The epic is poem plus ants. Their names are yesterant, presentant and mañanant, they cross the page pheromonially to the end of elephant, trailing mid romanticism, to the start of antique. This which shelves between us can take human form, can in that pure light trapped under which the road is tunnel the ear, bearing a replica egg. I also am the lost ant, seeking a mother-poem, master-poem, but uncomprehendingly wide of that mark. The lost ants’ broken syntax destroys roses. Unaimed and unnamed, the gyre loosens in the parabled corn or behind a handynasty vase. Humean billiard balls strike out to follow the hox gene down the orchard. Here we find spines and symmetry, then suddenly the ants drive upwards in force, shepherds from whom a sonnet will be piped. Nomad is neither island nor tending to dystrophy, in groups, singing hemichaunts, they are ascending to milk the stem-mothers. Poems sustain low-level weed-growth, fending off predatory antiselfs. If we reduce want we get ant. Reduce poverty to get poetry. Oppose the system, end up with antimperialism. The lost ant by Grimm’s law changes to the lost chant which by Hart’s rule becomes the last chance which by Murphy’s law becomes loose change which by Kant’s categorical imperative is given away which by the third law of thermodynamics is spent which by free association becomes spurt which by I-ching becomes sport which by the law of unintended consequences led to an unabandoned shed in county Antrim which by the McNamara fallacy was bombed to shreds which by Stigler’s law of eponymy reverts to Grimm which by alexia turns to poem which by mob rule unturns the urn, returned silence, burnt algorithm, antic and ontic ant, found word, émigré or emigrant.


Giles Goodland has published several books of poetry including A Spy in the House of Years (2001), Capital (2006), What the Things Sang (2009) and The Dumb Messengers (2012). He works in Oxford as a lexicographer and lives in West London. His next book The Masses (of which this is a section) is due from Shearsman in 2017.



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