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.

From Except By Nature published by Graywolf Press, 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Sandra Alcosser. All rights reserved. Used with permission.