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The Outdoor Poet: David Alpaugh

THE EARTHWORM ODYSSEY


As for your earth or angle worm, there are three ways to take

Sir Slime prisoner—each governed by a primordial element.

—Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler

1. Earth

Ach! Heinrich! Grab that spade or trowel!

Revolution’s the surest way to free Sir Slime

from the downtrodden topsoils of the earth.

And simplest weapons—shovel, rake, hoe—

are all we need to overthrow the humus …

release the teeming regolith… liberate the loam…

until the hero of our uprising—L. terrestris

writhes in grungy glory at our feet.

If you don’t mind soiling your hands in his drool

you can pluck him from the dirt with thumb & finger;

or shiver the giant clods into dust through a sieve

till a hundred worms dance naked on the wire.

Erda! Fafnir! This is the way of the people!

Dig deep! and cast your bait into the stream!


2. Air

Stick your pitchfork into the ground

and give it a good shove with your foot,

driving the prongs deep into the soil;

then rock the pitchfork back and forth

applying rhythmic pressure to the haft.

“Worms are like us,” Billy Sessler would say,

“Worms have to breathe—just like us.”

And he forced stale air I didn’t even know

was there to fart its way to the surface,

transforming loose dirt into tight, thick clay,

until every worm in the neighborhood

was having an asthma attack, and pretty soon

they were poking their heads out of windows.

“Here comes everybody!” Billy Sessler laughed,

as a dozen big ones wriggled into sunlight.

“I told you they have to breathe—just like us!”

And I looked at the older boy in awe,

certain I had found my mentor—

because I knew he had not learned this in a book.


3. Water

Three requires a thunderstorm tempestuous enough

to make “nightcrawlers” so fear death by drowning

that they haul their hermaphroditic bodies partway

onto the grass and lie there exposing themselves.

My father would get me out of bed at two AM—

I’d put on galoshes and follow him outside

and we’d sneak across the spongy lawns

armed only with Eveready flashlights.

No sooner would one of those ruddy creatures

darken my beam than I’d drop to my knees

and seize its bulbous head between my fingers

before it could shrink back into the vaginal earth;

then I’d exercise the lanky art of easing a nightcrawler

out of its hole, whole. I was always surprised when it

finally let go, like an exhausted rubber band or spent

penis. I’d deposit my conquest in the can and move on

until every lawn and garden on our street was picked

clean and the knees of my dungarees were sopping

wet and my coffee can full and reeking with their

lather—that startling, earthy, lubricious smell:

essence of midsummer worm slime.


4. Fire

“There’s a fourth way!” writes Mrs. Jessica Jones

of Toms River, New Jersey: “You can buy them!

Haven’t you seen those signs along the road

in what our government likes to call ‘the rural areas’?

Worm farming mon petit poète maudit

is one of this nation’s thriving cottage industries.

Thank God we still do something better than Japan

because, between you and me,

I’d sooner touch my husband’s dickie

than a slimy, suppurating, diggory-delvet earthworm!

May they always be kept in somebody else’s cellar;

and if we must condescend to fellowship

let glove or tweezer or silk-lined casket

mitigate the horror!”


5. Envoi

Always three ways…

Always a can of worms…

Always this damp desire to go fishing….

—from Counterpoint, Story Line Press, 1994


About the author David Alpaugh holds degrees in English from Rutgers University and the University of California, Berkeley where he was a Woodrow Wilson and a Ford Foundation fellow. His poetry, fiction, drama, satire, and criticism have appeared in more than 100 literary journals, including Able Muse, Chronicle of Higher Education, Evergreen Review, Light, Modern Drama, Poetry, Rattle, Scene4, Twentieth Century Literature, Zyzzyva—and in the Heyday Press anthology California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present. He has been a featured reader more than 100 times at book stores, cafés, colleges, civic centers and other venues in Northern California and has been a finalist for Poet Laureate of California.

The Outdoor Poet is edited by Robert Sward, author of numerous books of poetry including, most recently, New and Selected Poems: 1957-2011 (Red Hen Press). He lives on the Westside with his wife, the artist Gloria Alford, and a poodle mix named Cosette. Participation in The Outdoor Poet is by invitation.

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