I bend an ear to your sound, put my knees in the dirt,
offer my orifices to you like doorways
to march into me. Ant, a quick trek and I hope you’ll find
(like a tongue’s first flirt with noise)
enough voice to speak to me in antennas and eyes.
I say, The stone, the stone, through the grass, dirt, dirt, stick,
and then the heat of sugar, the prized melting flesh of roadkill.
You say, The sky, the sky, through the atmosphere, stratosphere,
and then the heat of stars, the prized melting flesh of my cosmos.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2013. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2013 was David Robinson.
I love the mind-bending imagination of this poem, which zooms down to an ant-level view of the world before racing up into ‘the heat of stars, the prized melting flesh of my cosmos’, all somehow seen through a transfer of consciousness between the ant and the poet. I love, too, the image of ‘a tongue’s first flirt with noise’ employed as part of that wished-for transfer, and the signs that it has somehow been achieved, as the poet feels, instead of thought, a sense of the ‘heat of sugar’ that has lured the ant towards the ‘prized melting flesh of roadkill’, and the ant is able to imagine some sort of blissful human nirvana. And all in ten lines, too!
In 2009 I interviewed the late Scots Makar, Edwin Morgan. We were discussing his sci-fi poetry and his interest in the idea that there is ‘nothing not giving messages’. We spoke about the mysterious nature of bird migration and the alternative senses of the animal kingdom, which we don't yet fully understand. Morgan wondered just how much of the universe there was trying to communicate and whether or not humans were simply unable to listen to what was being said because we lacked the technologies or mindsets to do so.
This was an idea which I didn't really believe in a Doctor Doolittle sense but it interested me. Therefore ‘The Ant Swap’ is about attempting to hear the world and people around us, to look beyond our own assumptions as a way of viewing life from alternative perspectives. Through this perhaps we might evolve as individuals and as a species.