by Georgia Bellas
Swab. Smear. Shake. She sniffs the sample. Concentrates. Violets and cream. A trace of moonlight. Notes of night plums and secrecy. She fans the strip. Inhales. Rained-on daisies and trampled dandelions. Winter bonfire smoke and dead stars. Uncried tears. The coroner sighs and rubs her nose, stamps the file. Cause of death, the usual.
Cerumen, a word I’ve always found beautiful and surprising and not very popular. Makes me think of albumen, a slippery mouthful of egg white, then cerulean, sky blue. Blue word associates to robin’s egg to ocean to whales to swimming to swimmer’s ear to little rust-colored globs floating in a warm, peroxide sea.
From a young age I had a problem with too much earwax and needed to have my ears flushed out at least once a year. I was fascinated at the waxy clumps the nurse would show me floating in the kidney-shaped plastic basin that leaked water down my neck. That was inside my ears?
Then I learned that it’s inside whales’ ears too. I read an article about scientists who analyzed a 10-inch plug of wax from a blue whale and were able tell its life history—how old it was, at what age it reached sexual maturity, what chemicals and pesticides it had been exposed to, what its stress levels were like at different times. They’ve even graphed cortisol levels with whaling data from the 20th century and discovered that stress rose (surprise) when whaling increased. Earwax told them these stories.
A micro assignment for a Kathy Fish class got me thinking about these whales and my interest in earwax and detectives and forensics. Our bodies and blood hold secrets. What secrets might cerumen hide?
Georgia Bellas is a writer, artist, and filmmaker whose current obsession is using binoculars to spy on the bunny in the backyard. She and Dan Nielsen are the Wisconsin-based duo Sugar Whiskey (https://sugarwhiskey.com/), a post-minimalist art band. You can follow her teddy bear, host of the award-winning weekly Internet radio show Mr. Bear's Violet Hour Saloon, on Twitter @MrBearStumpy.