William H. Matchett


Angle-worms are scarcely to be met with in these parts, where the soil was never
fattened with manure: the race is nearly extinct. --Thoreau, WALDEN

For your slow leveling of inequalities--
not merely king and beggar, though that too,
but the smoothness of the turf
"on which so much of its beauty depends"--
for this we are told to be grateful.

Thanks to a certain Leith Hill lady
"on whose accuracy I can implicitly rely,"
we derive the tonnage per acre per year--
tonnage, not poundage--of the earth, when dried,
ejected moistly from "the earth's intestines."

Though "poorly provided with sense organs"
and apt, in a warm room, to work
"in a careless and slovenly manner,"
you yet show intelligence beyond dull instinct,
contriving ingenious plugs for your burrows.

Those who disrelish you would soon find
a wormless world growing "cold, hard-bound,
void of fermentation and consequently sterile,"
unlike you "hermaphrodytes, much addicted to venery
and consequently very prolific."

For we infer some fifty-three thousand per acre
("credible. judging from what I have seen,
and the number daily destroyed by birds
without extermination of the species"),
quietly pursuing your permutations,

your "chief work," sifting particles,
mingling the whole with vegetable debris
saturated with intestinal secretions,
breaking down, building up the fine black humus,
yor essential contribution to "the history of the world."

Or, poor, blind, naked worms, are we wrong again
(however entertaining the monography),
presuming agency rather than result?
Is the soil fertile because you are active?
or are you active because the soil is fertile?

I find no thousands in weeding the glacial gravel
of my raspberry rows, but cherish each pink nubbin--
five perhaps in twenty feet--and trust the manure
thrown in and the large rocks thrown out
to fatten them along with the rootstock.

Nor have I ever found a single casting,
let alone the "tower-like constructions" of Bengal.
Darwin's deductions, all very well
in a world of meticulous ladies and lawns,
founder on sagebrush and hardpan.

Even my compost pile at its best
breeds more stones than worms.
How garden clippings and kitchen slops
generate either is a major mystery:
friable earth is the minor.

It is the grave's feculence at which the gorge rises.
One need not have kept the world in awe
to choke on the deliquescing flesh, the soft groper
in the loved socket. The particular change
brought home, subverts acceptance.

So gratitude, prescribed, remains an act
of dubious faith, more questions than answers.
Archetypal recyclers, contrary convocation
of simplifiers, we yield to the throughly mixed
blessing of your mumbled translations.

William Matchett, Airplants: Selected Poems, Antrim House, 2013.