Nonfiction from Lori Brack

Photo: Adam Littman Davis

The Ground, Remembering

Between birth and the Siamese kitten I begged for when I was five, there were ants: an unending caravan of them plying the beveled crack in the concrete patio where I knelt, sun baking my dark hair soft. At intervals, an ant would cling to the bevel, hang over the row of insects, and use a front leg to brush the others along. This way, this way. No stalling. Don’t turn back. Transfixed for what I felt were hours, I watched ants behave as I had observed lined-up children outside the school, guarded and chivvied by their teachers from playground to school door.

No.

Nothing about schoolchildren. Try again.

I want to be the only person watching the heron at the pond’s edge. I want to be alone when I discover the wild rose or hear spring frogs tune up. I want to recreate the moment I was born, crouched on concrete, watching a trail of ants.

When I looked into that patio crack, the universe looked back, and the matter of my brain took the shape of a mind. Ants kept arriving from my right to my left. My first animals were not pets, but a lineage of insects.

When I was closer to the ground – which assumes I am eyes in a head bobbing up here five feet from my feet – I lived in a ground world. Bugs seemed bigger. All the outdoor stunners were close. When I knelt on the patio, my knees picked up the pattern of concrete and shards of sand blown in from the sandpit across the street.

My knees remember how I rolled my legs to feel the sharp bite of each grain. When I stood, I brushed sand out of my skin, picked stubborn particles free with my fingernail. I had a body and wanted to know what it could feel. I’m recalling a measly kind of self-harm that remains a secret of sensation, hardly pain as much as curious sharpness, malleable flesh around little bits of translucent rock that the wind blew in.

Gone astray. Once more:

Was I like the ant in the crack, or the ant hanging from the side, or the rare ant going the other way? Or not an ant at all, but an anteater, my up-close eyeballs snuffling a long snout sucking up each black syllable, each pierce of punctuation.

Ants looked like letters when I found them in a line, when I learned the purposefulness of ants, the system that requires each to carry out its mission.

I fell into scrutiny, entirely alone and without desire to share, down the narrow hole to a new world. This is childhood, its brink: that we are each going to have one single moment our shallow experience has not foretold, and so we are new to the planet as it presents itself outside the narrow spectrum of domestic control. And thus we, one by one, are born.

My wide-open eye could not get enough. Time slowed, my body evaporated but for my sun-melting hair.

I have been trying to say this ever since.

With the book of the ground at my feet, each step discovered pages. First, I’m anyone, the crack, the nothing. Kneeling deep, the I gathers at intervals. I become the syntax of ants, the edge.

Does
every
child
imagine
her
birth-
day
this
way,
a
single
afternoon
when
the
world
falls
away
and she
is
invented
by
these
wayfarers
plying
the
depth
of
one
un
fold
ing
revelation?
.

.
Lori Brack‘s chapbook A Case for the Dead Letter Detective will be published by Kelsay Books in spring 2021. A Museum Made of Breath was published in 2018 by Spartan Books Kansas City. Her essays and poems have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, North American Review, The Fourth River, Entropy Magazine, Mid-American Review and other journals and anthologies. She lives in the prairie two blocks from the Garden of Eden and 14 miles from the geodetic center of North America.

4 Comments

  1. I was just thinking about ants the other day! Thinking I don’t seem to see very many anymore or is it because I am not looking? I, too, have a childhood memory of squatting low to watch the ants filing out of the little anthills. This is a lovely poem about our first awareness.

  2. kindnquirky says:

    The pattern of indents on my knees become so vivid with your writing.

    You remind me that my curiousity as a child has never left me.

    Thank you again, Lori Brack, for your ability to resurrect images and give me reason to be self-satisfied.

  3. Kate Gough says:

    Thank you so much for this. I feel less alone.
    A beautiful read.

  1. […] Nonfiction from Lori Brack […]

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