From An Interview With the Chief of Taxidermy


by Daniel Bosch

For the dead at Rana Plaza

“So you’ve shifted much of the actual labor from more highly-trained employees to less-skilled and therefore less-expensive workers?”

“They do a much better job than we could do ourselves, with our sophisticated technologies. And because of their effectiveness, the scientists and management professionals on our team are free to pursue other matters.”

“How much of the workers’ effectiveness is due to their size?”

“Part of it has to do with how small they are, but what I think is more significant is the degree to which, though it’s piecework, they clean as a collective. It can’t be so — we know each worker is pursuing his own, well, agenda — but it seems as if they communicate and cooperate, divide and conquer! The quality of their work is astonishing.”

“And are they fast?

“By a factor of three or four, over any remotely cost-similar approaches. The workers are so many, and they are tireless, and there is no portion of the structure they cannot reach. Plus their mandibles are so sharp and so precise, that there is almost no risk of damage to the bone structure. With our workers we get perfect specimens; 93% are suitable for casting and for computer modeling.”

“How many, would you say, work on each piece?”

“Well, there is an optimum range, which depends upon square centimeters of surface area to be cleaned. I could only estimate, but Briony could tell you. Certainly it’s in the several hundreds. During peak activity the bone surface is grey-black. It seethes.”

“Have you ever listened in as they work?”

“Listened in?”

“Is there audio as well as visual surveillance of the workers? And if so, have you discovered any sound, or sets of sounds, associated with, say, peak activity, or a lull?”

“There aren’t any lulls, I can tell you that. I haven’t thought about it before, but the workers must produce minute sounds, well below the range of ordinary human hearing. And, I suppose, if quite sensitive sound equipment were deployed, perhaps these sounds could be picked up. I’ll think about it. But audio surveillance would at this point be quite beyond the scope of our interest in our workers’ lives.”

“For how long does the average worker clean?”

“The lifespan of a worker is on average 140 days. And a worker is hungry for its entire life.”

“Does a worker’s technique improve over the course of their career?”

“I don’t know how that could be. Much of the work is so basic as to be instinctual. You can check with Briony about this, but, well, as I’ve said, I see the work of the colony as a collective endeavor. If individual workers gain experience or knowledge it would very hard to assess that they had done so.”

“Recent research hypotheses suggest the possibility of ‘collective learning.’ Do you think it’s possible that the quality of the work of any particular colony of workers here might improve over some unit of time? Say, several generations?”

“My best answer to that is for you to see the workers in action. Any improvement in worker productivity would be marginal at best. Wait ’till Briony shows you! I think then you’ll agree that such a line of inquiry is, again, beyond the scope of our interest in our workers.”

“How do you obtain the workers you employ?”

“Most of them, of course, are bred on-site. On occasion, when business is especially brisk, we have acquired workers from off-site sources. Briony handles that, too. Some of the workers born off-site are domestic. I remember Briony asked me once for permission to spend a little more for some workers from abroad — Belarus, I think. I gave her the go-ahead. The difference was pennies, really.”

“Do you recall if there was any difficulty integrating the foreign workers with the domestic workers in the colonies?”

“With the exception of a few hundreds that Briony weeded out, the foreign workers were phenotypically isomorphic with the domestic workers. The pieces got clean. Breeding was completely unimpeded. And we met or exceeded our delivery goals. If there was any difficulty, I suppose I would have heard about it, and, of course, Briony would have handled it.”

“What happens to the workers, once they have removed the flesh and cartilage from each piece?”

“The majority are returned to the colony to work future projects. The remaining few are sacrificed according to standard lab protocols. Briony handles it.”


“One has to remove them from the skulls. Briony does this by hand. A good shake, you know? A knock or two with a light rubber mallet, maybe some scraping with the eraser end of a pencil, a close visual inspection from many points of view. Most of the workers fall back into the colony, followed by a final removal process, immersion in a liquid, I think, a sterile, non-reactive solution. Any remaining few workers fall off, along with the feces that might have accumulated or eggs that might have been laid during cleaning.  It all slips off the bone in the bath.”

“So for these last few workers, so absorbed in their work, at one moment they are gorging themselves—“

“They die happy!”

“—and in the next moment they have drowned.”

“Yes, well, it could be that some of them float to the surface and that she skims these floaters off and if they have survived the few seconds of immersion they could be returned to the cleaning colony. Briony handles it.”

“And what happens to the bodies of the workers that are ‘sacrificed’? If the bodies float, are they skimmed off the surface, with some sort of filter, or are they flushed down the drain with the refuse solution in the tub?”

“The bodies of workers discovered in this final solution are returned to the colony. They are consumed by the colony, usually by workers in the larval stage, very much in the same manner as are the bodies of dead workers who have not been sacrificed.”

“And Briony takes care of this, too.”

“Precisely! I try not to micromanage. I am proud that I may leave such operational details to Briony, and to the other members of my staff, each one of whom is an expert. And I’m proud to have such workers, too. Through their diligence, we have increased our productive capacity without increasing our costs. This month we will ship 1100 skulls.”

Photograph by Skimsta

Cover image from Fire! Fire!, by Enrico Baj, 1963

About the Author:

Daniel Bosch’s poems and translations have been published in journals such as Poetry, Slate, The Times Literary Supplement, Agni, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The New Republic and The Paris Review. He was Poetry Editor at Harvard Review for issues 19 and 20. In 1998 he was awarded the Boston Review Poetry Prize for a set of poems riffing on films starring Tom Hanks, and his first collection of poems, Crucible, was published by Other Press in 2002.  Recent essay-reviews by Daniel can be read at Artsfuse, Contemporary Poetry Review, The Critical Flame, The Rumpus and The Fortnightly Review. He lives in Chicago.