A DISEASE OF THE ANIMAL BODY

Tate Crowley

one.
It was the summer of dying things. Constantly, the buzzing of flies and the sickly sour smell of
rot. I swept brown leaves from below the small wintersweet tree in the front yard while my
mother pulled weeds around the edge of the driveway. As she removed a particularly resilient
plant that had grown in a sliver of dirt beside a large flat rock, tufts of white fur began to blow
through the yard, uncovered by her small pointed spade. Given the season, it would have been
easy to mistake them for the white cottony seeds of willow trees that so often hang suspended
in the air. But everything she dug up yielded the same result – clumps of fur that quickly drifted
away in the breeze. Decaying somewhere in the garden, we knew, there was a small creature,
perhaps a mouse or a rabbit. We never found the bones.


two.
Many fragmented things have been hidden in the wooded area behind my house. A rusty old
water heater full of bullet holes, a child’s shoe that belonged to someone who is now fully
grown, a forgotten time capsule, two teenagers sharing their first kiss, half of a plastic Easter
egg. Once, on an evening walk, as the warm orange light was beginning to fade, I found a pale,
fractured thing abandoned near a recently felled tree. It looked like a discarded antler, although
nothing with antlers lived in the area. There was an oblong hole on one end; an empty space
that was meant to be occupied. Nothing, where there should have been something. I put it back
on the forest floor.


three.
Before the ocean washed the beach away and left nothing but a steep cliffside in its wake, I
found a bird skull in the sand. A segment of bone along the edge of the beak had snapped. A
diagram of avian anatomy labeled it as the jugal bone, a structure identified in many dinosaur
fossils and passed down to both birds and reptiles as an influential genetic trait. I wrapped it in
tissue paper and brought it home to my cousin who collects animal skeletons.


four.
All the places I have bled in my lifetime must surely have a memory of me; an echo of the red
rust that washed quickly away in the rain. Once, on a family vacation, I fell backwards in a chair
and cracked my head open on the jagged concrete wall behind me. It didn’t seem bad enough
for a trip to the hospital, so my grandfather trimmed a section of my hair and closed the wound
with butterfly bandages purchased from the drugstore next to the hotel. A piece of me still lives
there; the residue of red blood cells and a faint memory of pain.


five.
In the darkness, I showed someone how bodies are meant to fit together– the curve of a spine,
the bend of a knee– we are shaped to rest side-by-side, stacked into each other like folding
chairs. In some quieter part of my brain, I thought of the imprint in the earth made by a body in a
grave. A few days before we held each other for the last time, I saw a rotting tree with bark full
of holes created by a woodpecker. The tree no longer had leaves. I didn’t want to touch it. Was

the creature built to fit into the forest, I wondered, or was this simply another way of talking
about destruction?

Tate Crowley is a person with two lungs and one heart. Her interests include rock collecting, creating playlists for extremely specific scenarios, and learning about outer space. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Washington and is the author of two poetry collections, "singularities" and "what i didn't say before". Tate can be found on Instagram @tate.crow.writer