K-K Loke


Listen to Audio Version read by Jill Khoury.

Here it comes:
ten contingents of thousands of fire ants
march up my toe cliffs and ridges, foot slopes and arcs.
In formation,
they hook their mandibles into thin flesh;
inject venom with their stingers,
setting my sensitive nerves on fire.

Their fire spreads up the hills of my calves,
down through knee valleys and thigh plateaus,
until it reaches the buttocks mounts.
There the fire ants build their fire mounds
that burn throughout day and night.
Sometimes, the fire leaps its walls and
spreads up into the plains of my back,
burning into shoulder blades, and onwards.

Nothing can stop the attack,
not even a change of posture;
even the famous pain fighters
have all lost their battles.

Only when they are satisfied, do
the fire ant troops retreat,
sometimes slowly, backing down;
sometimes suddenly, disappearing overnight.

The caves, plains, mounts, plateaus, valleys, ridges, and cliffs— all peaceful

Alas! It's only a Trojan celebration:
the fire ant soldiers have left their wooden horse behind;
the next attack is a sunrise away
and twice as ferocious.

* * *


Listen to Audio Version read by Jill Khoury.

I strain under the sun's wet-hot weight.
Cars and motorbikes flash past me.
I am an old bull in India,
yoked to a cart fully loaded
with sacks of rice and spices.
When I turn, lift, or lower my head,
yoke becomes a worrying blade.

I am a laborer in a dusty quarry in rural China.
A pole with heavy baskets loaded with gravels
weighs on my shoulders.
Down uneven paths, my uneven steps
throw the load from shoulder to shoulder.
I load and unload,
day after day, from sunrise to sunset.

Under a red hot Bangladeshi sun,
walking bare-footed over broken bricks,
I am a child laborer
carrying two stacks of freshly baked bricks
on top of my head,
as high as my up-stretched hands can reach.
Sometimes, I lean forward
to carry the stacks of bricks on my back,
held by my back-stretched arms and hands.
I load the waiting trucks repeatedly without rest.
My young neck and shoulders stiffen.
My thin arms burn with pain.
My small hands are full of old scars and new wounds.
My scarred back and spine hurt constantly.

I awaken:
The heavy yoke, the bricks, the pole, the load,
still on my neck, head, arms, back and shoulders.


K-K Loke became a wheelchair user after a biopsy operation on a discovered spinal cord tumor in 2004 and had to take early retirement from her university position. She started writing about her experiences in 2006, using familiar images (metaphors) to describe what are unfamiliar to most people: chronic neuropathic pain, spasm, disability and spinal cord tumor, as well as management of her drastically and irreversibly changed life. She now blogs at The Invisible Puppeteer.