Some days he'd rub two pegs together until they made a greasy hum like rain, the sound of moles grawing the dirt's grain, the song soils sing before a quake, and the red bodies would hang above the ground in a kind of confusion or ecstasy. They would writhe. The farmer showed me the way worms made love in concrete, coffin-shaped beds on mattresses of moss and peat, slipping under the rubber collars of each other, joyous, shy, nervous, taking turns. Androgynous worms, their pale larva rising like dew on black earth. He told me about the sweet spot in the warm dirt where he found the wild ones, night crawlers a foot long. How he worked day and night--plastic sky dripping on his neck--preached on Sundays, sixteen years old, reeking of worm sweat. We drove around his slow Louisiana Baptist town, the square garlanded with green metallic boughs, red Noels, though it was October. There was one movie house. The Bijou of course. First floor-- expensive, gummy, for whites only. Blacks sat in the rafters for a quarter. Filmy bayous surrounded blank brown cotton fields, fluttered with white heron. Once a black man walked by a white girl and she ran. He never said hello. The citizens dragged him from prison, burned the man alive. But that's an old story. This one's new--a black boy sat in that same prison five years, innocent too, and when the town freed him he headed for the Victorian house he'd watched each night like television-- the illuminated window of an eighty-year-old couple-- he knifed them both, raped the woman, what felons become legend to. If you tend worms your whole life, dig their beds, stir the eggs, sort the dark segmented bodies, you'll lose the pattern of your own flesh. The whorls of your fingers will vanish. A worm can eat anything-- two by four, dog, human. I know this world, said the farmer, I've listened to worms my whole life stirring in slime. I know where we come from, and despite all our slick designs, I know where we return. This town's passed more than once through the slippery tunnels of worms.
Auntie lies in the rest home with a feeding tube and a bedpan, she weighs nothing, she fidgets and shakes, and all I can see are her knotted hands and the carbon facets of her eyes, she was famous for her pies and her kindness to neighbors, but if it is true that every hat exhibits a drama the psyche wishes it could perform, what was my aunt saying all the years of my childhood when she squeezed into cars with those too tall hats, those pineapples and colored cockades, my aunt who told me I should travel slowly or I would see too much before I died, wore spires and steeples, tulled toques. The velvet inkpots of Schiaparelli, the mousseline de soie of Lilly Daché have disappeared into the world, leaving behind one flesh-colored box, Worth stenciled on the top, a coral velvet cloche inside with matching veil and drawstring bag, and what am I to make of these Dolores del Rio size 4 black satin wedgies with constellations of spangles on the bridge. Before she climbed into the white boat of the nursing home and sailed away--talking every day to family in heaven, calling them through the sprinkling system--my aunt said she was pushing her cart through the grocery when she saw young girls at the end of an aisle pointing at her, her dowager's hump, her familial tremors. Auntie, who claimed that ninety pounds was her fighting weight, carried her head high, hooded, turbaned, jeweled, her neck straight under pounds of roots and vegetables that shimmied when she walked. Surely this is not the place of women in our world, that when we are old and curled like crustaceans, young girls will laugh at us, point their fingers, run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.