Erika Brumett


     “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.” -   
Charles Darwin


           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.