The Meek Shall Inherit . . .
(The Earthworm Speaks)

By Delbert R. Gardner

Instead of being a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floor of sunless ocean,
I'd rather follow my own annelid laws
And eat and undulate for locomotion.
I work in mysterious ways
My earth-moving duties to perform. A maze
Of worm-encalcined tunnels fills the earth:
We're everywhere, except in rock or sand--
A hundred thousand of us per acre of land.

The scoffers no doubt say,
"When you see one earthworm, you've seen them all.
There's hardly room for individuality."
Ah well, what do the scoffers know? Do they
Know how we build and lime our tunnel wall?
They don't know how the dirt we masticate,
Which passes through our systems and out the ends,
Gives us both locomotion and nutrition--
To eat and run is part of our condition!

And then the way we propagate our race
Without the need for difference of sex--
But each of us is male and female worm;
Our mating wears a most Platonic face:
Laid end to end, we merely swap our sperm,
Then separate, and each of us effects
The birth of his/her passionless begot--
Ingenious arrangement, is it not?
Eliminates all sorts of lovers' fights,
Paternity suits and staying awake nights
Wondering if the spouse is false or true.
And yet there will be times when I debate
About just where the scheme of things all tends,
And wonder too about free will and fate.
I feel a little lost in all the crew
Of earthy worms around me, hardly friends,
Who will not notice when I too am part
Of this dear soil in which they have their being.
And after you've moved a pound of earth, so what?
I must have moved almost a pound by now--
It was my greatest purpose at the start,
But now I seem to have dropped "why" for "how."
If I could feel my job accomplished aught
Within the larger scheme of this our earth--
Our sages tell us to believe, without seeing,
That what we're doing in itself has worth
And that we shouldn't try to understand
The higher purpose of life; they say have faith
In things not felt: beyond our mazy land
Of dirt and moisture there's another kind
Of world depending on ours in many ways
Incomprehensible to earthworm mind.

Ah well, then, let it be.
Let's do our job, and someday we may see.

Delbert Gardner's "Tammuz to Ishtar" appeared in Mythic Delirium 19, and was nominated for the 2009 Rhysling Award. His poetry has appeared in such venues as The Hollins Critic, American Poetry Magazine, Poetry Digest, Provincetown Review, and Literary Review. Further details are available at The Gardner Castle website.

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