The Story Behind the Story: “Carve This Flesh From Off My Bones”

For me, this story is about the body. Women’s bodies in particular. I live in a woman’s body that has survived chronic illnesses, car crashes, eating disorders, and sexual assault. I often don’t feel at home in this body. Moving through the world as a woman has always been a dangerous undertaking, more so for women who are queer, people of color, trans, or disabled.

I wrote “Carve This Flesh From Off My Bones” in summer 2017. The title came into my head first, while I was riding the subway from Manhattan to where I lived in Brooklyn. My day job was writing about climate change, and in my free time I volunteered with an activist group. At the same time, I was struggling with chronic health issues and feeling a lot of anger about attacks on human rights and the environment.

I had just read Roxane Gay’s book Hunger and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which both informed this story in subconscious ways. The biggest literary influence for me has always been fairy tales and mythology, such as the Brothers Grimm, Madame D’Aulnoy, One Thousand and One Nights, and Greek and Norse myths. I owe a lot to Ursula K. Le Guin and the way she wove these archetypes into new yet deeply familiar patterns. (Read “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” if you haven’t already.)

Themes of cannibalism and transformation run through so many of these tales, mixing horror with rebirth. Once I knew the title of this story, I saw the woman standing at the edge of the firelight, and the rest of the story unfolded quickly from that beginning. On one level it could represent a dystopian future, but I hope that like any fairy tale, it makes room for many shades of meaning.

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About Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom

Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom is a queer, disabled writer whose work appears or is forthcoming in Hobart, BUST, Soaring Penguin Press, and Audubon magazine, among others. She holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College and has studied at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop. She was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. For more, visit lizbergstrom.com.