Nancy Naomi Carlson is the author of two award-winning chapbooks (Tennessee Chapbook Prize and Texas Review Press’ Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize), a full-length poetry collection (Washington Writers’ Publishing House competition), and Stone Lyre, a collection of René Char translations, published by Tupelo Press. A recipient of grants from the Maryland State Arts Commission and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, she is an instructor at the Bethesda Writer’s Center, as well as an associate editor for Tupelo Press. Her work has appeared in over 225 literary magazines, including Agni, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and Denver Quarterly, and is forthcoming in The Georgia Review. “Ant Hills” was unearthed after visiting a counseling colleague at a renovated public school. During their conversation, a tiny ant walked across her desk. Explaining that the school had the misfortune of having been built on a huge ant hill, her colleague smushed it.
If You Build It
She built a sunroom to wall in honeyed light,
but by nightfall, not a drop was spared.
Patience, she prayed, though to no
particular deity—room drained, even of moon.
The smell of new paint made it hard to breathe.
She had put her faith into star-crossed words—
cadmium lemon, corn silk, goldenrod pale—
and the hubris of human floors,
when a simple sound would do, as a song
without words—Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise—
instinct in the flowering oo’s—
or a river’s lap and purl surrounding a basket
woven from twigs, baby asleep,
hidden from sight but buoyed by a pattern of reeds.
Build your house on an ant hill if you’re tired of living alone. Even if windows are sealed and a blanket wedged in the space beneath your bedroom door, they will find a way in. Let them come. They can help you get past a season of cold, or show you how purpose gives form to the day. They can teach you the language of trees. Bred to bear twenty to fifty times their collective body weight, they can carry away your fears, one by one, to the deepest reach of the ground, or bring you small crystals of garnets unearthed from below—fire-eyed.