Kill or Be Killed

Aozora Brockman

On hands and knees between two rows of dry

potato plants, I sweated far from the rest.

Otōsan had dug the ground for me with two

great sweeps of the tractor, up and back, so that

the roots of all came loose at once and made

simple the task to fill my red pail heaping.

No rain for weeks made cracks appear that sliced

the soil into great slabs, heavy as rock,

and those I moved—teeth grinding slow to keep

from thinking of the rays of sun that lit my back

ablaze and how my fingertips felt ripped

open each time I dug at the coarse soil,

in search of smoothness. But when I lifted that mound

of earth, I saw a swarm of black and beady ants

who, caught off guard, looked up at light in fear.

Some ants with creamy eggs clenched in their mouths

burrowed back down into the dark for safety,

and still a few brave souls rushed up my arms

to bite: kill or be killed. I could not help but smash

them dead—to stop the pinching pain perhaps,

but more so because my mind forgot to care.

I watched one crumple off my forearm,

and there where it fell, on an overturned clump,

a crusty cocoon shone silver and large—

asleep, curled like the moon. It was as big

as a tomato worm, which is why I thought

Otōsan would want it gone before it could

lay eggs. So taking its body between thumb and

forefinger, I squeezed and saw milky liquid

spurt out. And then I sat, eyes wide and hand drenched

in the sticky white blood, chilled by the hot air.

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