Dead Rabbits, Live Newts

By Eleni Sikelianos
What a rare privilege to be at work and walks here among such a wild profusion of intelligence, inventiveness and ethos. The poet Robert Creeley once said that you forge ahead, writing poems “because you care about the kind of world you live in.” What I have found here at Djerassi with my cohort is a burgeoning sense of world-building, made of scientific and artistic imagination. During a walk with poet Allison Cobb in the first week or so of the residency, we stumbled across a recently dead rabbit, whose eye had been eaten right through, while the rest of the body was left fairly intact. Later, we witnessed a couple of clumsy salamanders (or newts?) falling off a log and scrambling into a damp palace of rich, madrone-colored leaf litter. (At www.sfbaywildlife.info/species/caudata_notes.htm, I read that the Coast Range Newts, Taricha torosa, are “highly toxic and shouldn’t be ingested” — glad I didn’t pop one in my mouth on our stroll.) That evening I wrote this: if you like let the body feel all its own evolution inside, opening flagella & feathers & fingers door by door, a ragged neuron dangling like a participle to hear a bare sound red-eye-hole rabbit, fat of the bulbous stalk pecked out to the core so you can bore back to the salamander you once were straggling under the skin Inspired, I realize now, by the detrivores, I began this meditation on the evolutionary ancestors we carry around inside us while we type, snack, blink, think, sleep, wake, eat, dream. I’ve been adding lines each day, and am beginning to recognize a kind of catalogue of ships (to steal Homer’s form) — a taking stock of phylogenetic indebtedness. Although I’m not sure how long this will get, I love the idea of a book-length poetic inventory of phylogenesis, tracing the ways in which we’re evolutionarily or imaginatively connected to all the other animals around us. grope toward the protozoa snagging on the rise toward placental knowing who developed eyes for you agape in open waters the worm that made a kidney-like heart burrows in directing your heart leftward in nodal cascade, slow at your hagfish spine who will bury your bones