Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2016  Vol. 15 No. 1
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My Muse: An Ant on My Tongue

I track my muse to very small ants and fig-tree roots. I guess this will require some explanation:

When I was a kid, my grandfather erected a sign in his yard in front of his enormous grove of fig trees. SPEED HUMPS WASTE GAS, it read. The road that runs in front of my grandparents’ house is busy for a neighborhood, and it has a series of speed bumps marked, as they always are, by yellow warning signs. My grandfather delivered for Papa John’s into his eighties, and he used this road frequently. He ranted about the speed bumps to anybody who would listen. He ranted that not only do they waste gas, they also waste citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars. When he drove over the bumps, he honked repeatedly in protest, no matter what time of day or night. Angry neighbors called up my grandmother about the disturbance. It was his affair, she would say.

He still honks when he goes over a speed bump. But now, well into his eighties, he doesn’t rant as much as he used to. He’s not as interested in “oversized” government or in saving a few cents on gas. Instead, he talks about figs. How the ripest and best figs are often full of small ants. He expounds on the right conditions for sweetness—morning sun and wood humus and pine-needle mulch. In the winter, the foliage dies back, but the rhizomic roots stay healthy under the soil. They sprout new nodes, which eventually grow into trees, spreading the grove. In the summer, passersby knock on the door and ask if they can pick figs. He cuts them a few dahlias, which also grow in the yard, and gives them a bag to collect the fruit.

So, my muses, the roots and the ants: an undying and prolific connection to place—to rural Virginia, the mountains, the animals, and plants. Then the lively bites in the midst of so much sweetness—to get my “tongue” (pen, keyboard) moving: the strange and various people that live around me, many of them given, like my grandfather was, to diatribes. The intriguing yard decor: flamingos, scrap metal, whirligigs, tethered goats, gravestones, and what not? And finally the silences, the abandoned spaces—what remains after everything else falls away.  


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