the ants are here. my dad has been cultivating
the backyard, fenced off the jacuzzi with heavy
pots of stalk, cucumber vines spilling over
lamb's ear in the back. the plants grow
despite the thick sun and smoke. they wilt
during the day so he only waters them at night.
it is my fault the ants are here, he says,
i've 种 (zhong) too many plants,
made them too 重 (zhong),
and the ants are opportunistic. tired
of waiting for the harvest, they
have marched inside towards
the fallen clothing pole,
through the sliding closet doors,
chewed past the stack
of small plastic bags,
dodging glow sticks,
spider rings,
pumpkin puzzles
to find the leftover halloween candy.
the best trick or treating street in the whole neighborhood
is on our closet floor, i tell my brother
who that night had been left
heartbroken on the doorstep--
there had been too many school shootings
that year for the children
to wander out.

the ants come after the wasps. a week prior my mom
discovers, through her bedroom window overlooking
the roof above the doorstep, wings
and legs crawling in and out of a
paper lotus pod. not a home we want
near ours. at walmart neighborhood market
my dad buys a $2.99 plus tax
can of wasp spray, plunging the nest to
the sidewalk overgrown with foliage that
the masked HOA-mandated landscapers
will soon trim. (the ants will come before
the wasps. three days later my dad will return
to walmart neighborhood market and spend
another $2.99 plus tax because he will
discover four new nests by asking
to borrow the $90.10 plus tax binoculars
i bought for looking at birds which i
thought was from a scam website but wasn't.)

the ants have found my rats. the three
rats huddle together in their hammock,
snouts poking out of the corners like
cerebus watching his domain under siege.
to quench their sugar high, the ants
have swarmed around the rats' water
bottles, feasting on leftover
drip. i bring my rats out
to my bed, dusting the ants
off their fur, offering them
a touch of comfort; it's the only way i know
how. they are still shaking and
quiet, and i'm not sure if it's
because they are frightened or
betrayed, so i turn to aggressive petting,
mashing my fingers into their
skulls in a motion similar how i
manually rub my own clit,
the same fingers that later
squish the ants on the walls that were not
taken care of with household cleaner.

later that evening, i wash my hands to prepare
to prepare a roast duck. i ladle boiling water
over its skin, which immediately shrinks at the heat,
in order to get the crisp exterior lauded by
chinese restaurants. i mix soy sauce
with brown sugar (there was a single ant
in the sugar cabinet) and puddle that over
the newly tightened skin, sliding my fingers
underneath to massage and merge the sauce
with its succulent meat, straining the thin
connective membrane between skin and flesh.
this is a feeling, i realize, identical to petting
my rats. clearing space by moving large heads
of lettuce and bok choy to the ground, i place
the seasoned duck in the fridge to dry overnight.


(day 1)
in the car we tell stories
again and again
rebuilding comforts evicted
by personal anxieties. we sing
each other's favorite songs,
our tongues rewriting ambiguity,
a fun game,
an exercise in intimacy.
we've been exiting the mountain
for over an hour & you've been waiting
for over a month.

(day 2)
the hotel receptionist lied--
we were charged for the water,
and i paid for cheapness with
a head pounding, so you patiently
sat next to me as i slept past
noon. we go shopping. yes, consumption is
the great american past time;
yes, our mutual discomfort with
the QFCs and PCCs, the sour taste
of wealth, binds us;
yes, i bought the baking soda,
you need it for crispy potatoes &
it was only 85 cents.
turning something sold to
nourishment. turning years
of labor to a latex document.

(day 3)
we walk through strip malls of
our childhoods--except while
i have denounced mine, you regain
some semblance of safety.
it's probably the trees.
i could be happy here, you say,
and join me in the city where
we eat a mud pie on damp
astroturf illuminated by
stadium lighting. the next day,
from the city i come home to you,
fried chicken in hand. we had
to ask the restaurant for another
container; they had cut a hole
in the first one, said the steam
would dampen the skin,
but i insisted, as i wanted
to please you--sog over
covid any day. soft boy,
can my touch drown your disappointment?
can my cooking/cleaning/driving recreate
the life we gave up sustaining?

(day 4)
slurping the cold noodles we share,
meaning constructing and consuming joint
meaning as soon as you get home from
dropping me to the airport you have the signature
meaning you've done it,
meaning you should no
longer be waiting for
what it is you want.