This poem won Peoples Choice in 2-Day Poem Contest 2022

At winter’s final surrender, my kitchen becomes a graveyard
for ants. Their bodies fall in clusters, form families
of crumpled black petals beside an aging apple,
last night’s forgotten toast. The poison on their mandibles:

mine. This inevitable ritual. This carnage. I deny the first ant
as fluke, usher it outside. The next ten slink in hungry,
allowed to leave alive. But when they skitter all at once
chasing veins up the broadside of my thighs, my arms,
I rush to peel open traps, barricade the walls,
pretend their deaths don’t rest in my hands

like a coward. The man I once loved used to laugh
as he kindled wax candles against their antennae
or drowned them in his bog of dish soap
and arrogance. He liked to say ants don’t feel pain

as if we could ever be certain of such things. As if
their frantic convulsions away from his flames weren’t enough
to believe them. These days, I always close my eyes
when I whisper apologies to every lost daughter who sways
drunk on boric acid, a noctambulant, stumbling shadow

in this kitchen; in this microcosm
of a man’s world, I am still her.

I wear footprints on my spine.
My hair smoulders hot, every severed strand
a mnemonic for how much this body can take
as I cross these granite tiles anyway. Devour
crumb by crumb what is his. My sisters and I
leave invisible trails home. We learn
how to scorn the peachy-sweet scent
of betrayal.

Every spring, another flood of ants.