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.