Read the introduction by guest editor Paisley Rekdal.





In a place in the yard where nothing grows,

I lift the brick that's nothing's cornerstone

and unearth swarms of living dirt


passing what I thought was a moth

between them rip by rip, but it

was not, I came to see, a shared food;


it was their eggs. I found a nail and a hinge

in the mud, but no

gate. I found a hasp and a shell


and a slat. Not

feasting; reproducing. Not this;

that. Not division;



Not the catch; the hatch. 

Ants blast downward


with the auger of cooperation

right through the single footstep

stamped like the sole


sole that so chilled Crusoe

it might as well have been cloven

by one brick


in the bed, joined by no others

in wall, path, stairway, or border,

first or last already or still


in formation, so

infested, so violently

solo, it must be the monumental


cold downed head of the framer

of some dull

concept, some pyramid


scheme, vacant slab-faced

antique statuary

whose squirming visage


faces the muck.

Worker ants craze the subterranean

emergency entrance whose surface name


is exit. Stampede, where units

are larger; trampling is the crisis

those of us with soft bodies


fear dismounting a slow escalator

that nevertheless outpaces

the interval between arriving


and arrival; one foot

on the grinder, one foot on

the landing, like being delivered   


into my own body. Knowledge

and terror. Wake up, commuter,

your bottled water is throwing  


beautiful spiteful rainbows all along the corridor.

Their bobbing is my radiance  

and I can see forever, the crowds


and carnage of which no one

has gotten right save one location scout

who saw a day-lit mall where,


sadly patient, pressing a security gate

sacred as a choir screen,

bored, rotting, underpaid



groan at the principals.

What's more revolting?


the informed runnel of carpenter ants

that erupted through a crack in my porch

to surround a living snail—they entered the shell  


and took the spiral from within like

dutiful tourists up a spire; reformation

whitewashed twists lit by an unseen source; the


narrowness of passage; and imperceptible

to me, though I listened, the swoosh

of advancing ants already climbing


a staircase to the interior that the

snail no doubt sensed, if couldn't

hear. I saw its alien horns strain to


understand, like the ears of a dog—which—

watch my hands—lead me to

your second choice: wolf snail ravaging


common tree snail, shell and all.

There exists in nature

a wolf-kind of every species


whose criminal hunger takes the shape of

the most vile courtship; in this case,

the wolf slogs the viscid ectoplasm


of its victim; to watch it, it looks like

horrible walking, but

its lips are so elongated they are nearly


an appendage and it's eating

the contrail of the other snail even

as it's hunting it. Slow or fast, I can't say.


Pursuit staged by Patience

in revenge of the abduction of her child

by Time and Silence. I watched footage


of a wolf snail on a tree

snail on a muted big screen TV

and thought they


must be mating until one just

disappeared entirely. There's a shill

and a shell and a shell man, sleight of hand,


a mark, and tremendous morose

marksmen from another scale, as among

us some have come from another time. The



sickens me.  The overlaps. Wolf snail rewinding

common snail up its trembling spool,


the wheeling

of the welk

inside the welk.


The wave rolling

and the root we share below

the house. The wheel inside the


wheel inside the meal inside the meal of

our first date—snails you dared me with shame

of worldlessness to eat, but there was a third there—


a game statistician who's

since left a tenuous post

to enter the system. I eat nails now,  


so acute is my deficiency for iron

and men. I eat soil. I put on

my gauntlets and plod out


with rake and hoe to work the beds,

but this garden has been working me.

It took me on the long con. Who


am I, a tourist,

to buy here. Was it so long ago

I took the steep enclosed spiral


staircase up the tower

in the walled medieval stronghold

and turned into


the occlusion. Levitation

is the name gravity takes

when the hourglass


is upside down,

but the hourglass

never is. Up and down


the corkscrew

go the angels in Jacob's vision.

Cheap revue


that plays in competition with

a cash-cum-slot machine

in the black box


lounge of the casino. Know

I am with you, Jacob heard God

whisper, and will keep you


 wherever you go, and will bring you

back to this land

 for I will not leave you


until I have done

to you

what I have promised


to do.


is the oldest industry;


dreaming is the oldest

tour. Every pilgrim has his scallop shell

to show for his. I live


in mine. Of the convergence

of the channel patterns carved

in calcium crystal, dry tributaries


that flow the half-shell to a single point,

I was told: Rejoice. You Are Not Alone, Pilgrim,

Even The Sea Maps Our Reunion On


The Very Shells It Scatters, but what


—look how the lines meet at broken


swinging muscle—

what horde pushed so

the hinge at the symbolic



of these symbolic lines in shell

the symbolic dead pilgrims followed


to their next symbolic lives

but which map just as well

the tendency of wolves


to merge packs; right now

deep in a Russian village

where they live on snow and horses,


wolves are coalescing.

I once stood by myself

in the ancient tragic scallop shell


shaped theater at Ephesus and saw

the flights of empty stairs

rush the stage.


The inverse

of a shooting star,

what I watched


was increments.

When my son dreams

the wolf snail


whose grave turning

has the clarity

of his grave purity


how can I tell him

it was just a dream?

I taught him


how to sleep

by putting him down

alone awake.


I taught him how

to count by starting with sheep

and staying there until



altered the word.

A herd


eyes the narrowness

of the stile

from a great distance


but unbearable

supercolonies of ants  

are not contiguous


in the human sense.

They are practical though, and kick

up a layer of clay we form brick with


from the middle of the earth

where they are retreating in panic

with the eggs I saw them rolling


in their shining mandible

face hooks. And I dropped

the brick.



Robyn Schiff is the author of the poetry collections Revolver (2008) and Worth (2002). She teaches poetry at the University of Iowa and is a co-editor of Canarium Books. The Catenary Press recently released her chapbook Novel Influenza.