Worms by 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 humus—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, he 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.


This poem was the First Place winner of the RHINO 2018 Founders' Prize.

ERIKA BRUMETT’s words appear in numerous journals, including North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Los Angeles Review. She earned Honorable Mention for the 2017, James Hurst Poetry Prize, and her novel, Scrap Metal Sky, was published in 2016 by Shape&Nature Press.