g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
Photo Credit: Christian Haugen
Ants Still Marching
There are days when the sidewalks
fill with ants—
red, white, black, gold, blue, olive green, purple—
all at war with each other,
and the rest of the world
They march one by one by two, three, ten, or more,
eating every scrap in their paths,
trashcan to kitchen floor,
Eventually the sweet soup
gone from their bowls,
replaced by the sticky sap
of baked beans and onions and candy-wrappers.
They push shopping carts ten times their weight
filled with lives in beer bottles
worth five cents a piece, ten in the right place,
they pull suitcases packed
with pea-coats torn,
pockets stuffed with blue-green feathers
Now the storm clouds gather like the ants below,
to the long waiting soil
ready to gobble it up.
Driven by Pharaohs the ants haul their bounty in wicker wheelbarrows
headed for the oceanwide hills
where they’ll gear up for battle
against another billion-citizen world.
Like the Greeks at Carthage
they meet in the mud fields
hand to hand.
They fight, don’t feel the nuclear rain spraying down
until it’s too late,
the work’s been futile,
the world they know is gone
the hive the home food the den the men the women the children
radiated and destroyed
at my merciless hand.
The ants go marching.
God Grant Me Air Conditioning
The days are long
as the empty fields of France
fertilized by bones, blood, steel, screams, smoke,
steady spring rains.
And I’m higher than the mountains.
Buzzing stronger than the bees.
Microwave lullabies beep beep beeping
lower down than a back alley slag
in the heat of late May.
But it’s July,
and the heat’s much worse than that.
I Got a Black Toenail in Vegas
I got a drink
a thousand bucks
a black toe nail
all I want to do is stand by the table
watching the guys play big money
putting lives down disguised as
green on green
swimming in a chipped ocean
out of the bowels of the stadium
through arms fingers flags cheers dreams screams tears
melee of the crowd
a fighter enters.
in the side-room
a gray-haired comedian
recites fifteen year old lines
to the losers
searching for something
to take home with him
to the old lady.
the hyenas prowl
in a city of carcasses
the dead and living
up til dawn.
the last town
that you or anyone else
can smoke indoors,
can win or lose a life,
can still get a free breakfast free room free loot
the busses loaded up
the cabs spiked fares
the limos dry-cleaned of spilt drinks
the sun climbing desert sky lips tasting dessert thighs
card cards cards
flipping figure skaters bruised forever
by the fall,
Clocks melted and blurred by the heat,
portraits of royalty
clear water mirages
the dream forgotten then remembered night after night,
while time stampedes
stopping for nobody.
through the magic
I feel the reality of my black, jacked, and broken toe as
I limp my way upstairs
to see the future—
all it takes is a mirror and an old photograph.
My Promised Land
about to be on the move to the next town
probably a hundredth the size of the one I’m in now—
drinks a hundred times harder, too.
my promised land of dive bar havens
women who still know how
to get down in a grimy bed
with sweat stained sheets
that haven’t been changed in too long.
surrounded by high sea
sticky with beer vomit blood ash love.
whiskey will flow
every second of every month
the rivers will be the right cold
until it’s finally done snowing
when nickel and dime rains will fall all spring.
the sun the flowers the butterflies
the grass and the wine will come out to play.
the mountains will shield us from the world.
Matthew A. Toll currently hides out in Burlington, Vermont. He’s recently had poetry published online in Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag (issues 8 & 10), Fat City Review, Hidden Animals Lit Journal, Walking Is Still Honest (July 2013), The Vehicle, Industry Night, and forthcoming in print in The Modern Faye Magazine in 2014.