Science Lessons


Wina Puangco

Illustration: Diego Ibarra



You have found peace in diagnosis—in moving your hand from under your chin onto the map at the moment of aha: putting a finger on it (a fracture as thin as a split hair on an x-ray, an orange spot on a screen), say this with your chin raised—as if naming has power over form, over body.

Cancer, you say. (To die slowly.) Schizophrenia; you push your glasses up the bridge of your nose as the world rolls off your tongue. (To be trapped inside your head.) Emphysema, you announce with relief, stethoscope pressed to a bare back. (To drown on dry land.) Kidney failure, your calm voice reads off a chart. (To poison yourself.) Epilepsy, you say to the shaking woman’s family. (To forget how to be still.)


Give it a name to suit whatever it is or whatever it looks like—study the structure, see where it bends and where it extends: branches, arms, memory. Count carbons, feel for joints (on a bone, that holds a person together), hinges (on a door, that seals the house shut), a spine (that binds pages in place).

Find the proper word to fit it and what it is lacking; learn what will resonate and what will stay still (door slamming—door slowly clicking shut, the unseen tremble of a hand on a doorknob). Do this quickly: adjust bonds to satisfy needs. Grow up (if there is no one left to take care of you), grow in (if you have given yourself away), out-grow (if it is the only way to leave).

Name what you are good at in order of increasing importance (banter, baking, blowjobs). Put yourself in place: learn how much gravity you have been born with (fill in the blanks) and proceed accordingly (connect the dots). Figure out how to orient yourself in space: how many ways you can bend over backwards, the more rearrangements, the better (do not let your father know your smoke, do not let your lover know you don’t—)


This is comfort in a body: to lay beside at night, to eat breakfast with, to sit with through a movie—a life. At least the box you have buried isn’t empty.

The funeral is at noon, everyone sweating like cold glasses of soda, melting into the ground as they round the bend. A rosary of balloons is released into the sky as they lower the body into the dirt.

Chiseled onto the cement is a Real Name (Devoted Husband, Loving Father). They are reading a book: something about ash and dust and things that last forever. Eventually, all beds become boxes. 

After, at the feast under a white tent: call it commemoration. (To celebrate without smiling.) Call it a toast. (To raise a glass and look at your feet.) Call it hoping for the best. (To name things, in-spite of—)


Say this is a Balloon. Watch it slip out of your hand, anyway.


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