This old house has already stood longer than it should:
second-hand at its start, built from old-growth fir felled
and milled for a barn in Goshen, then the barn torn down,
the wood salvaged and dragged here, re-cut
and hammered together again. And though I fend off
the rain with black tar and plastic, though
I tack back shifted roof shakes and replace
the rotted porch boards, I know it must someday fall.
Every night I see carpenter ants on the kitchen floor.
They come craving sweetness and salt, carrying off
the crumbs I’ve left to sweep up in the morning.
They take only what they need. That’s not why
I kill them. But they tunnel into the floor,
boring through joists and beams. They work on wood
like rust does on metal. I can hear the steady grinding
all night long. There must be something like them
in our blood. Past forty the body starts to sag, timbers
shift and separate, earth piles up around the foundation.
Though I crush every one I see, there are more.
There is no going backward, no winning this war.
Finches nest in one hollowed out wall. The chicks
chitter and beg, fluttering half-formed wings.
My cat caught their mother. I woke up to feathers
scattered across the floor. The male bird brings food
though the knothole entry, working hard all day.
He scolds from a branch above the compost pile,
where worms are thickest, the cat skulking nearby.
Carpenter ants burrow into wood like worms
turning the soil. Everywhere I turn, decay
breeds abundance; life thrives on rottenness
and death. I’m telling you the truth.
This old house will fall, be bulldozed into a pile,
burned, plowed under, the ashes feeding new trees.
Life loves death. I must say it again. Life loves death!
For my old age, though, I will build with stone.
© Ken Zimmerman, 1994
Appeared in The Community College Moment 2014