Learning How to Kill


by Maren O. Mitchell

Piss, crazy, ghost, sugar: evolved from wasps,
the only other creature to herd for food,

they crouch like mammals to drink,
bathe with the grace of cats.

Extreme Communists, they change sex, sprout wings
for the good of the whole.

Sick nest survivors emigrate, forsaking family.
Hearing the warmth of spring they invade early,

flowing back and forth along my windowsill,
up and down mini-vases of pansies and thyme,

laying chemical trails: Aphids ahead! Good milking!
Casual across a hot stove,

they stagger out of microwave minutes with nothing
but slight brain damage.

Kept fresh in the fridge for days, they move faster than I do.
The freezer stops them dead in their tracks.

They fall for the false sweetness of Pepsodent,
become muscle-bound unscrewing the cap,

dizzy from navigating threads.
They reconnoiter a cache of “stevia,” sugar x 300,

sweeter than all the perfumes of Arabia.
With sheepish smiles whitened by traces of the forbidden,

they offer cocaine to their Queen,
foreseeing her fashionable waistline,

her rise among her peers.
Across counters, with 70% alcohol, I swipe

devastation through orderly fat-foraging ranks.
They retreat in routs from the big “it.”

Marching lines spin drain-ward,
fighting up against the down.

Not a picnic, I kill from all angles.
I see no faces, slaughter with ease.

Finding one alone I roll it to
death between thumb and forefinger.

Within days my soul has sprung a leak,
compassion escaping at an alarming rate.

Fearing afterlife, I grant intermittent mercy,
rescue with oar finger those drowning,

blow others into legendary flights to be recounted by their descendants.
Research tells me more than I want to know.

Fooled by compulsive bathing,
the salmonella, the pseudomonas they carry are news.

Prudent, they import golden Mr. Clean-smelling resin,
sterilize feet before crossing their thresholds.

Instinct kicks in; rescues cease.
Guilt recedes. I know murder.

Author’s Comment: Writing about killing is difficult for me. Beginning with an essay, I took the smallest creature that I knowingly kill en mass, the sugar ant, and treated experiences with humor through exaggeration. Thus, some of the ethics of killing were more easily addressed. This was a very uncomfortable subject to attempt.

6 thoughts on “Learning How to Kill

  1. Maren,
    This is a perfect poem-from piss to murder. You may be uncomfortable with the subject, but you stride right to the heart of equivocation and rationalizing. Your images (waistline, cocaine), are powerful!

  2. Maren navigates the darkness of killing while standing in the light. She lets us believe this is a poem about nuisance ants, but it is more if we read between the lines.

  3. This is an adventure with which too many of us are so familiar we’ve lost the significance. thank you for giving us such perfect layering of a subject so easy to pretend is something else.

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