Lucy Holt

A Negro lived in Edinburgh and gained
his livelihood by stuffing birds,
which he did excellently, and taught me

scalpel, scissors, needles and thread,
alcohol about eighty percent in strength,
cork-lined boxes for insects happenchanced.

When a thing is killed the mouth
should be opened, cleaned as if your own,
filled with cotton and any wounds

the same. Without an audience or food
a mouth is just a wound
he said, while labelling the jars


Lie the animal on its back, quiet legs
pushed aside, take the scalpel in the right
hand and with the left separate the hair with a type

of love. Work in a straight line
to better God. He laughed,
knowing my view on the work of said god.

Always the beginning is a beginning
of a story, he said. Work quickly,
we have no time for stories when

death wants its own work to be done.
Turn back the skin on either side,
a wild red land is revealed. Be firm.

Why should the skin loosen its hold at all easily?
Remove the skin from the nape
and the deepest part of the skull will be there.

Look away respectfully.
Do not injure the eyelid,
little thing-in-itself. Care

should be taken in arranging the eyelid
for an expression—of belief,
nonbelief—depends altogether on this.



The italicised first stanza is taken from Charles Darwin's Autobiography. See also C.A. Walker, "Hints on Taxidermy," The American Naturalist, 1869.

After his routine speech on natural selection, a local guide in the Galapagos Islands said wistfully that Creationism was the better story.