American Life in Poetry: Column 427
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
You can’t get closer to our hunter-gatherer ancestors than by clawing in the earth with your fingers. Here’s a delightful poem about digging for bait by Marsha Truman Cooper, a Californian.
A Knot of Worms
As day began to break, we passed
the “honk for worms” sign,
passed it honking again
and again, to wake up the worms
my dad said. It was only
about another half mile to
the aspen grove and our worm digs.
The humus, spongy and almost
black, turned over easily.
I used my bare hands to put
some moist earth into a coffee can
and, as the aspen glittered
in the risen sun, I gently
slid the fresh, fat bait into my container.
I heard the worms still in the ground
gurgle as they tried to escape,
while the ones in the can began
to ball up as their numbers grew.
Streamside, surrounded by mountains
with snow lingering into summer,
I picked out a worm and my dad
arranged it on the hook to save
my small fingers. Now you can purchase
a time-share on that land.
The colony of aspen, thinned
by the builders, continues to
tremble. No amount of honking
brings back the worms.
We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Marsha Truman Cooper. In 2013, Finishing Line Press will publish the chapbook, A Knot of Worms. Poem reprinted by permission of Marsha Truman Cooper. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.