by Rochelle Hurt
The first time I tried it, I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just felt so hot and dry, like my skin had burned to ash, a Pompeii baby, still seething. It was the last day they let me come to school. Miss Alice had been tilling the garden all evening, and when I stepped onto the back patio, the upturned dirt was glistening in her yard. I walked right over to it, as if I’d been in her yard in the dark a hundred times. Standing over the dirt pile, I thought I could make out a beetle squirming in the soil, an iridescent shell weaving through the black. I crouched down and stuck my finger in the dirt after it, but it burrowed deeper. When it disappeared beneath the surface, my skin started to heat up, and that’s when I did it, all in one motion. I took a breath, plunged my face into the pile, then pushed and pushed, like I was trying to be born all over again, into some new face on the other side of that dirt. When I had got in up to my shoulders, I hit something hard, so I pulled my head out and looked around, clumps of wet soil falling from my face. The dusk was splotched with black, the moon blemished from behind the earth in my eyes. I had been waiting to see the world this way—the way the world sees me.
Two weeks with Miss Alice still tilling and planting, and I got to doing it almost every night, sometimes taking two fistfuls of dirt when I surfaced, and rubbing it on my bare arms, my chest, my neck—never my belly, at first. This is what I was doing when I saw Miss Alice at the sliding glass door, hunched and yellow in the candescent kitchen light, looking out at me. I stopped, one hand hovering at my waist, and stared at her like a deer staring at a rifle. She shook her head from side to side, and I looked down, only just noticing the worm stuck to the side of my belly, which was swollen up pretty big by then. I remembered this time when Miss Alice had come over to help my mother plant zucchini. I was just a little kid. I picked up a worm from the garden, and Miss Alice said, “Don’t touch those—they’re dirty things.” I held onto the worm for a minute longer, not wanting to give up what was mine, and Miss Alice said, “You don’t want to be a dirty girl, do you?” “No,” I said, and dropped the worm in the dirt.
Rochelle Hurt has received awards from Crab Orchard Review, Poetry International, Hunger Mountain, and Arts & Letters. Her poetry and prose can be found in recent or upcoming issues of KROnline, Southeast Review, Cincinnati Review, The Collagist, Image, and RHINO.