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Tag: Hermit Crab Essay

Index of Body Parts by Kim Magowan

Image is a color photograph of sketched body parts; title card for the new flash creative nonfiction essay, "Index of Body Parts," by Kim Magowan.

  Elbow The so-called “funny bone,” the most sensitive bone in the body. A tap here feels excruciating. The hardest point of the body, according to the scary mass email my mother-in-law sends (subject heading: FOR WOMEN!). “If assaulted, attack…

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Author’s Note

This past summer, I took eight- to ten-mile walks. So many writers are runners. I hate running, but I love walking. Moving my body moves my mind. I’ve always composed while I walk, pausing to email myself notes for stories.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about bodies. Good friends and family members have sickened and died. I move my body through space and think about moving it through time. I consider all the different ways, as a cis female, I’ve experienced my body: objectified, desiring, strong, fragile, diseased, healthy, hungover, gestational, nauseated, aging, wanting, found wanting. Our bodies have such strange relationships with our selves. They both belong to us and are us, the cracked houses we inhabit. My favorite Yeats poem describes the heart “sick with desire / And fastened to a dying animal.” So many of my stories are about bodies, their unruly appetites, their vulnerability to time.

This particular day in July, I was thinking about the body in parts. I’d been working on my new short story collection, rearranging stories, trying to determine what did and did not belong. I pictured the WIP as a body of work.

Walking, I thought about how prominently body parts figured in stories and myths. Noses grew when one lied; body parts generated—not just sex organs, but stranger parts, like heads and ribs. I emailed myself representative body parts: eyeball, elbow, tongue. I emailed notes about how they manifested. Which body parts were metonyms for weakness and fragility, for instance, chinks or holes in the body’s fortress. No doubt because I’d been thinking so much about organization and sequence, how to arrange the parts, I imagined this “essay” (essay: to try) as a glossary or index.

I was participating in A SmokeLong Summer, and every week, I wrote a couple of drafts to workshop. My first draft of my index was alphabetical. But one section stuck out: the liver. It was more personal than the other entries, not just about myth (Prometheus), but also about my father, who had died a few years after receiving a new liver. One workshop member suggested I cut it; he called it the weakest section. Others said no, it was the strongest. I agreed with that more enthusiastic assessment, but I also knew it didn’t fit where it was, under L, uneasily in the middle. My first reader, Michelle Ross, said, “It belongs at the end.” The entry was about postscripts, about endings and aftermaths. I saw her point. But wouldn’t that mean breaking the rules I’d set myself with my index?

I realized that the “Liver” entry was about things being out of place. Organ transplants, things eaten and regenerated. It was about both the life-saving and toxic things put into our bodies, incorporated. It made sense for “Liver” to be an uncomfortable inclusion, a misfit. Many of the body parts on my list were similarly paradoxical. Something violently severed, generates: Uranus’s castrated testicles produce, on the sea foam, the goddess of love and beauty. Blood on the water. “Liver” was both detour and culmination, the right ending, the sad ending.


KIM MAGOWAN lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department of Mills College at Northeastern University. She is the author of the short story collection Don’t Take This the Wrong Way, coauthored with Michelle Ross, forthcoming from EastOver Press; the short story collection How Far I’ve Come (2022), published by Gold Wake Press; the novel The Light Source (2019), published by 7.13 Books; and the short story collection Undoing (2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Colorado Review, The Gettysburg Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the editor in chief and fiction editor of Pithead Chapel. Find her on Twitter at @kimmagowan.