An arrangement of strangers

The ants in his pants
found a dark crack
and bit at the edges
until at night the worms 
came out and about
looking for food
and found ants, from his pants, 
for company.

Together the roundworms
     and the man-eating ants
enjoyed their pantaloni party.

There we go: an offering from my notebooks that takes a side-step from the usual quaint, observational whimsy to the slightly grotesque. Perhaps you’re a little curious about the origin of these ants and worms? I’ll tell you.

I am one of three siblings who grew up in a suburban South African home filled with pets – hamsters, tortoises, goldfish, silkworms (Yes, they’re pets, too.), cats and dogs . When we were little and restless, our Mum or Margaret, our nanny, would ask, “Do you have ants in your pants?” If you were unlucky enough to sit on a thread of the little Argentinean ants, which populated the kitchen, garden and any other nook in the house over the summer, they would quite happily nip at you. As a child, it didn’t take much to imagine pants full of ants nipping away and making one jumpy.

There is another childhood ant memory. One Sunday afternoon on the television, I caught an extract of a black-and-white movie about carnivorous red ants in the jungle. In my imagination’s memory, the jungle is the Amazon, home to those other flesh-munchers, the piranhas. There was a scene in which one of the explorer men dozed off in the afternoon humidity. By evening, when someone came to wake him, his face had been eaten up by the carnivorous ants. Ever since, I have had a phobia about falling asleep in a humid jungle with a Panama hat over my face and not waking up, for my face has been consumed by rapacious ants.

Pair these ant memories, with Mom or Margaret’s other favourite rhetorical question, “Do you have worms?” Any whinging or teary-ness or overtiredness or unexplained snacking or bottom scratching, would be accompanied by the worm question. Then the dreaded threat would follow, “I am going to check you for worms tonight.” Once it was dark, the little white creatures would inch their inquisitive selves into the world. Inspections were most effective at such times. Worms and the annual worm treatment were such a routine part of our growing up with animals, that all this was a regular feature of our childhood. It is such a shared experience that amongst the three of us, we even have a shorthand ‘worm-dance’ (choreographed by my brother) for, “The worms, they are (out) looking.”

“An arrangement of strangers” provides an example of how incidents from my past provide imagination-compost for a creative piece. While much of my writing springs from personal experience, I really do eschew the conflation of autobiography with my artistic expression. It would please me if the man-eating ants and their roundworm associates have entertained you in their own right. After all, they brought along the pantaloni party.

*pantaloni = plural of pantaloon
I think the addition of this word adds a comic, circus-feel to the final stanza, which in turn taps the picayune and surreal world of flea and ant circuses.

If you’re interested in reading more of my poetry, preview my first volume SHINING IN BRIGHTNESS at

I tweet as @BeadedQuill. Follow me.

Published by BeadedQuill

Author of over 300 poems, also books, essays and short stories. Published in the Johannesburg Review of Books, Carapace and Type/Cast. BeadedQuill's titles are for sale via

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