Worms

By Carl Dennis b. 1939 Carl Dennis
Aren't you glad at least that the earthworms   
Under the grass are ignorant, as they eat the earth,   
Of the good they confer on us, that their silence   
Isn't a silent reproof for our bad manners,   
Our never casting earthward a crumb of thanks   
For their keeping the soil from packing so tight   
That no root, however determined, could pierce it?   

Imagine if they suspected how much we owe them,   
How the weight of our debt would crush us   
Even if they enjoyed keeping the grass alive,   
The garden flowers and vegetables, the clover,   
And wanted nothing that we could give them,   
Not even the merest nod of acknowledgment.   
A debt to angels would be easy in comparison,   
Bright, weightless creatures of cloud, who serve   
An even brighter and lighter master.   

Lucky for us they don't know what they're doing,   
These puny anonymous creatures of dark and damp   
Who eat simply to live, with no more sense of mission   
Than nature feels in providing for our survival.   
Better save our gratitude for a friend   
Who gives us more than we can give in return   
And never hints she's waiting for reciprocity.   

"If I had nickel, I'd give it to you,"   
The lover says, who, having nothing available   
In the solid, indicative world, scrapes up   
A coin or two in the world of the subjunctive.   
"A nickel with a hole drilled in the top   
So you can fasten it to your bracelet, a charm   
To protect you against your enemies."   

For his sake, she'd wear it, not for her own,   
So he might believe she's safe as she saunters   
Home across the field at night, the moon above her,   
Below her the loam, compressed by the soles of her loafers,   
And the tunneling earthworms, tireless, silent,   
As they persist, oblivious, in their service.

Source: Poetry (May 2003).

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Poetry magazine

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May 2003
 Carl  Dennis

Biography

Carl Dennis was born in 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned a BA from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from the University of California-Berkeley. He has taught at the State University of New York-Buffalo since 1966, where he is both a professor of English and writer in residence. Dennis has published numerous books of poetry, including House of My Own (1974), The Outskirts of Troy (1988), Meetings with Time (1992), . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Friends & Enemies, Relationships, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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