Some Very Important Business

by Todd McKinney

This morning I sit on the front stoop
and watch ants pick apart a beetle
who is easy food because
only half of him remains: his head
and his abdomen to which
his two front legs are still attached.
Too bad for him, I think,
because he is still alive, on his back.
About every twelve seconds,
he reaches his legs up, as if to grasp
something—maybe his beetle soul—
so as to pull it back before it slips
into this cool October ether.
And now—too bad for him—
there are more ants than before,
each one carrying beetle pieces
back to headquarters. I ask the beetle,
“Should I contact a family member?
A friend? A man of the cloth?
Do you have any last wishes?”
The beetle does not respond,
just reaches his legs up again,
losing his grip. Were the beetle
a person, some would say,
“God has his plans,” or
“He’ll be better off in Heaven.”
I say, “This is the way
God wants to eat you today.”
This doesn’t help, so I try Poetry.
“Rage, rage against the dying of the . . .”
And the beetle rages and rages and
reaches his legs up, reaching for
the light switch. Then I say,
“I’m sorry for not knowing
what to say as you lie here.”
As I say this, I lean in, look
for eyes to look into. I hear
ant voices screaming,
“Come on!” and another:
“They found a robin by the oak.”
The beetle moans. I lean in closer.
His guts smell like rotten potato.
I lean in more so that I am only
millimeters from his nose:
He wears a thin silver mustache!
which matches the silver in his hair
which glistens in this morning sun.
And his jowls hang there like an old dog’s.
hanging there like wisdom,
hanging there with too much
familiarity. So I can’t help what I see
Next: grandfather giving in
to the cancer, the cold creeping
behind his eyes and cheeks.
Afraid the beetle recognizes me, I talk
about the weather, the economy, baseball,
and then I remember that this scarab beetle,
which I’ve always known as a June bug,
is still alive with only half its body
and the small black ants
moving to and from the beetle
like an animated dotted-line
are not nurses nor doctors.
I consider blotting out
with my flip-flop the illusion,
but it’s too late for that now,
I know, as I kneel over the scene,
mesmerized by those diligent ants.