“It may be doubted whether there is any other animal which has played
so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly, organized beings.” -
Little tillers. Ploughs of night-
writhe and gizzard. Eyeless, they grind
through hummus—through leaf tip, rock
bit, rootlet—burrowing tubal
as the tubes they burrow. Dirt-
serpents, vermicelli, bait. Hook-
clowns, inchlings, doll snakes. Sectioned,
intestinal—each a squiggle
of innard—a stretch of entrail
or colon. Intelligent, unsung
creatures, Darwin noted, humble men
born blind and dumb. He kept some
in the cellar, let a few loose
in the drawing room, where he used
his son’s bassoon to test their sense
of sound. (Low flats, blown long, made them twine
with squirm.) Outside, Charles tossed cinders
on lime, charred marl on ashes, watched
as earth swallowed earth by way of worm-
work. As all was churned, pulled down. Stone-
henge rose from snow like stacked bones
that winter, when Darwin knelt—
in his final year—in its circle’s center.
When he bent his beard over a slab
of fallen sarsen, sunken under worm
cast and loam that had frozen.
To know them before going below
to join them. Their ganglions and five hearts.
Their slow, slow force—aerating,
burying—alive with decay.
-Audio art installation (underground walkway to University of Washington Medical Center)
Were they jays? Swallows, or finches? Dark-eyed
juncos, robins maybe? Hitchcockian—
that walk to ICU—though the tunnel
of birds—toward my father’s room. There were flocks
and flocks. Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands
of verdins, or larks, or starlings—all calling,
calling—stuck deep down below hospital
grounds. What artist thought that cacophony
might comfort? The soundtrack whistled on-
loop, on and on—siskins or kinglets—singing,
singing raucous at once, dawn until dusk
until dawn. Notes echoed off walls as one,
shrill song. A trillion violins, strings
pulled thin, then plucked by icepicks. The carcass-
hymn of bones hollowed by wind, a tune with air
for marrow. And on certain visits, whippoorwills
or wrens—chickadees, pipits, or sparrows—
could only have been banshees, keen after
keen, screaming. The passage shuddered, rang.
There, space narrowed. Shrank beneath sound’s weight.
Canaries were once carried through shafts such as that,
their hush forewarning. But under floors, wards, and breath
cut short, the birds kept chirping. Flights above,
I still heard them. In his room, silence sang.