The thought of you crosses my mind like a snake crossing a field that worries the snake might take something but can’t guess what—trespassing there. The snake darts into sight and into blindness. It slips down where things are serried, detailed, easy to confuse, impossible to follow—its track only to be told by lashing tassels, eruption of grasshoppers, bird hoopla. A substantial worm, and the glimpsed segments with lapse of time grow fatter. On what food? A field receives abundantly from the beasts that live in it, the best part of their food falls back—but this will render nothing, only take. What will it take? Something I’ll miss. Thief, and subtle, see how you sneak through the clutter of woody stems, while pale moths scramble for altitude and inchworms die of envy. Crossing a dry, stony field, partly under rye, encroached upon by tough brush and little spiky trees—fixed forever. Imperfectly divided, now, from the forest, that hardened tangle. No more as once set apart for fruition and effortlessly fertile, but reaching with great labor and ever falling short. A common place for little beasts, a messy web of ways, worse than woods, any two stalks here make a portal, and a path slips between. No telling how ants navigate without a map, there couldn’t be one, unless in their dark chemical tongue, but no, not even ants could trace one continuous passage from edge to hedge. They couldn’t presume to cross. Ants go out from the nest, toting, and come back, toting: sand up, dead bodies down, turning the soil, letting in air—workers, I like them. But a snake travels through, a slow-working belly that will cast what it has consumed far beyond my confines. I may never even know what was stolen. What in fact do I have worthy a snake’s stealing? I have no conception.
Snake, I have my eye on you. I can no longer guarantee my frontiers against the irruptions of such as you, but I can watch and spot the signs of your crossing. Scorings in sand, grooves in moss, blades straightening by twitches; a fresh fall of darker dirt below the mousehole mouth; jay’s terror and windless flail of just one bough of the sapling; sudden caesura of frog-prosody, all across one sector of my secret kettlehole bog; the rattle of a pebble in my ancient wall—these will be tokens to me of untold events in shameful places. I will know whom to blame. I will then, by a long, a nearly endless self-auscultation, I will find the thing that you have picked from my worthless hoard, and then, snake, I will come and bring you the rest. Yes, snake, the field you crossed will come to you at night where you lie in your coils, and you will find your slumber invaded by—what? Oh, millions of things, a whole earth of trivial items, more than you can dream of; an interminable, shapeless, terrible telling. Then we shall square our accounts, you and I.
This story originally appeared in the collection Terror of Earth (Sun and Moon Press, 1996).
Tom La Farge was born in 1947 in Morristown, New Jersey. His father, Christopher La Farge, was a writer who wrote him letters with drawings of animals and introduced him to Pogo and Tolkien. At Harvard Tom wrote a thesis on Austen’s Emma and was president of The Harvard Lampoon. After graduation he turned to teaching as a way to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War. His first marriage, which produced a son, the writer Paul La Farge, ended in divorce in 1973. Tom went on to earn his doctorate in Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Princeton. In 1978 he met the writer Wendy Walker, who became his literary partner. They married in 1982 and lived in Manhattan on the Upper West Side.
Tom’s first novel in two volumes, The Crimson Bears / A Hundred Doors, takes place in a city of animals where the ability to speak becomes a political crux, and was published by Sun and Moon Press in 1993-4. His next book, Terror of Earth, won an 1996 America Award and was nominated for the Fisk Fiction Prize by Carol Maso. Zuntig, another novel set a world half beast fable, half animal ecology, came out from Green Integer in 2001.
In 1997-8 Tom took a self-financed sabbatical in Morocco, and that landscape thereafter fully informed his imaginal world. A trilogy called The Enchantments emerged from that experience: The Broken House (2015), Maznoona (2016) and Humans by Lamplight (2018), all from Spuyten Duyvil Press. During this period he also published criticism, translations and poetry in Chain, Parnassus, Paradoxa, Western Humanities Review, Furious Fictions, Marginalia, Black Scat, Words Without Borders and The &NOW Awards.
In 2008 Tom retired from teaching and moved to Brooklyn so he and Wendy could join the collective of the Proteus Gowanus Gallery/Reading Room. There they founded a press, Proteotypes, and a salon/class devoted to experimental writing procedures, The Writhing Society. Tom kept a blog to publish what the participants produced and also wrote three of a projected series of 13 Writhing Machines, pamphlets exploring different types of literary constraint. In 2015 he was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. He continued to write until a few weeks before his death in October 2020.
His website is here.