The Specimen

I occasionally feed peanuts to two crows who visit my apartment balcony. There’s quite a large crow colony near the University of Washington in Seattle, and awhile ago I had the opportunity to go see some crow specimens that the researchers there were working with. I thought I’d get to see something like the interaction in this video, so I felt rather foolish when I realized that the specimens I’d come to see were dead (of natural causes) instead of alive.

I wrote this shortly afterwards, from the point of view of the deceased specimen.


I have always wondered what my liver would look like, if I could see beneath my feathers and skin, cut through the bone with my beak and peel away all of the fleshy layers to see the glistening umber crimson of my organs. But I didn’t have to do that; somebody else has done it for me, and I observe the dissection of my body with the detachment of an empirical scientist.

They left my head intact, but they sheared off my wings immediately, spreading each phalange out as though I was still in full flight high over the skyscrapers. My wings were even larger than I thought. The scientists’ capable hands look small by comparison. I have always wanted to be famous, to be remembered after death, but this was not exactly what I had in mind. Maybe they’ll reassemble me after they’ve taken a good look at my innards; that’s what I’m most curious to see, after all.

They cut through my skin along my back; clipped right through my spine and pulled out the breastbone, setting it aside with reverence. Fitting for a bird of my stature.

And there, nestled in the confines of my feathers and skin, are multicolored sacs of organs that I can’t identify but the scientists do: crop, gizzard, kidney, liver, lung, heart, intestines, brain. The liver looks like a rich slab of meat, sleek and dark, like something I would fight with a seagull for after it had killed a pigeon, and I felt a twinge of fascinated guilt as I realized we birds were more alike on the inside than I had ever dared admit to myself.

The scientists put my organs in glass vials, labeled them, and left my carcass out to dry. My two detached wings lay one atop the other nearby. And I? I just wanted to fly, but I couldn’t seem to do anymore than float, so with great reluctance I tore myself away from my body and drifted into the trees outside.

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