Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Yesterday Eran and I went to watch the project’s vet, Greta, and her husband, Henk, give an autopsy to a cow they suspected had died from a disease affecting some of the others. It’s the first time I’d seen the inside of an animal that size, out of the context of the old butcheries – all closed down now – that lined either side of Old Market Street in Bristol – down which we used to drive everyday to school. After Greta determined that the cow had actually died of a heart condition, probably exacerbated by her recent pregnancy, they buried her using a tractor.

We didn’t take photos, so I’m saving you the graphic details and offering instead pictures of perhaps Britain's most (in)famous dead cow…

Cow Postmortem:
By the time we arrived the skin was mostly peeled away, and the front legs broken to release the chest by cracking open the ribs – like a split chestnut – to see the stomachs – “this one does this, and that one’s for that” – roll out and fold over, bulbous and heavy with toxic water and acid cud.

I did not move, I wasn’t reviled, by transparent skin, inverted and opaque – not even when a sac of waste was split open, dribbling over untouched udders, lying limp and somehow separate, on the ground. Not until the smell, the stench – the acid burn of digested grass – did I have to fight the urge to hold my breath, to take steps back.

But I had to know that I could keep my watch, cool as stone, and not recoil from the display of organs constituting fleshly life – that coil inside every body – just because I come from cities where bodies like to feel that they have more in common with concrete and steel, and tar and glass, than cows and trees, and death and grass.

Of course they’ll laugh – those weathered skins on booted limbs – despite the whiteness, it’s the muscle and the tan they hope will keep me where I am; two more steps away from them:- the two vets who oversee:- he chews upon his pipe and observes while she carves and splits and drags us inside to see up-close the congested parchment and membrane maps encrusted upon her heart.

And then I know that in the craving to open out, carve up and scrutinise the faulty insides of a milking cow; and in the fingers’ method to mask the smell and mist the sight of a body still with life, not yet hidden safely underground, but opened to discover the secrets of her life, with tobacco and coffee and exhaust fumes; the reason why we thrust in from deep inside the boxes in our rooms, within the buildings in our cities, to dig out portals that let us see, and at the same time hide from, the cracked-open carcass of a mother cow.

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