Worms

Sandra Alcosser - 1944-
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.

More by Sandra Alcosser

Sweat

Friday night I entered a dark corridor
rode to the upper floors with men who filled
the stainless elevator with their smell.

Did you ever make a crystal garden, pour salt
into water, keep pouring until nothing more dissolved?
A landscape will bloom in that saturation.

My daddy's body shop floats to the surface
like a submarine. Men with nibblers and tin snips
buffing skins, sanding curves under clamp lights.

I grew up curled in the window of a 300 SL
Gullwing, while men glided on their backs
through oily rainbows below me.

They torqued lugnuts, flipped fag ends
into gravel. Our torch song
had one refrain--oh the pain of loving you.

Friday nights they'd line the shop sink, naked
to the waist, scour down with Ajax, spray water
across their necks and up into their armpits.

Babies have been conceived on sweat alone--
the buttery scent of a woman's breast,
the cumin of a man. From the briny odor

of black lunch boxes--cold cuts, pickles,
waxed paper--my girl flesh grows.
From the raunchy fume of strangers.

Hats

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.

Michael's Wine

Winter again and we want
the same nocturnal rocking,
watching cedar spit
and sketch its leafy flames,
our rooms steamy with garlic
and greasy harvest stew.
Outside frosted windows--
claw marks on yellow pine,

Venus wobbling in the sky,
the whole valley a glare of ice.
We gather in the kitchen
to make jam from damsons
and blue Italian prunes,
last fruit of the orchard,
sweetest after frost, frothy bushels
steeping in flecked enamel pots.

Michael, our neighbor,
decants black cherry wine,
fruit he ground two years ago,
bound with sugar, then racked
and racked again. It's young and dry.
We toast ourselves, our safety,
time the brandied savory
of late November.

I killed a man this day last year,
says Michael, while you were away.
Coming home from town alone,
you know the place in Lolo where the road
curves, where the herd of horses got loose
New Year's Eve, skidded around
white-eyed, cars sliding into them?
Didn't see the man until my windshield broke.

Could have been any one of us.
Twenty-nine years old, half-drunk,
half-frozen. Red and black hunting jacket.
Lucky I was sober. We stand there
plum-stained as Michael's face
fractures into tics and lines.
He strokes his wine red beard.
Michael with no family,

gentle farmer's hands, tilts the bottle,
pours a round, as if to toast.
It was so cold, he says,
that when it was over,
he swirls the distilled cherries
under a green lamp, there was less
blood on the pavement than you see
this moment in my glass.