Fulla Abdul-Jabbar





Three times in three years.
If you go to medical school, they said, you will learn it another time.

When he drew it—the first time I saw it—I realized he was ambidextrous. I couldn't follow along in my notebook because I didn't know how to follow along. My single hand could not recreate the movement of his two. When he pushed the arrows, he, better than me, was enacting a reaction that was concerted.

At the end of the lecture, I took a picture of the chalkboard in case I had missed anything. I could see that parts of it had been erased.





Number the carbons, he said, and you'll see more clearly how the changes happen. Everything stays the same—only rearranges.

Nucleophiles attacking electrophiles. From the pathway to the molecule. From the molecule to the cycle. From the cycle, it enters the chain.

Just memorize it, they said. Draw it over and over. Keep repeating drawing it. Then repeat without looking. Then draw it backwards. After a while you'll know it for the exam, he said. And then, it'll be easier to memorize next year when you'll have to for another exam.

I spent the morning of the exam sitting on a sunny square on the floor of my apartment, covering it with sheets of paper, drawing out the mechanisms…just to make sure I knew it. That it was, as they say, "in there."





They placed an empty box in front of me and asked me to fill it.

And then I could forget.

I did not synthesize nor did I discover these structures or their functions, but, as a student, I was told that they existed and that there were particular ones that I should remember. There would even be some, they said, that I could not help but remember.

Because they come up so often.

How do you write naturally? he asked. Do you write in paragraphs? In lines? In one long continuous sentence?

I liked the unit of the molecule. The smallness of that detail. That it was still real.

I was drawing out something between us.

And it was "in there" still but it became harder to draw out exactly and difficult to remember.





It is not a question of will you or should you, but can you?
And why do you want to?

We're trying ultimately, she said, to help people—
This discerning, replicating, learning, understanding.
And what we find may not be there. Or it may be wrong.

If it is common, why say it? It's just a fact, she said, so you have to go in deeper…So then we talk about your ridiculous shape.

The cycle was easier to memorize—perhaps because the beginning was the ending. I remember staring at an altered box, difficult to fill. It was all I had left, and I had twenty minutes. I could at least draw the skeleton. I do not remember the question, but I remember repeating in my head the words OXALOACETATE and SUCCINYLCO-A. This means nothing to me now, and I offer them to you hoping that they too will diminish. Maybe this brings us together.


I remember a dream that I had where I drew it out because I thought it was important—that I should remember it. You told me you should never write in dreams because no one knows what they are so no one can know what it means. I drew a rectangle, and then I drew your trajectory. A single bounce and into the water. Everything was wet. My mother was there telling me to be careful. That I might get sick.





But we turned ourselves and our attention away from the paths these cycles followed.

Countless times they've shown me the slide of the endlessly complex, yet still simplified, metabolism. You think that was hard, they'd say, it's only one component of this larger system. They might have said that it is really part of a system even larger than that—but that would have implied a different kind of biology, one that was not our subject.

I felt a series of concentric circles being drawn within me and around me. And circles have a way of looking like nothing. Or an opening. Or the number 5. My mother's number.

Why did you cry when you read that poem? These arrows do not help me know you. But if you are made of them, what does that make you? Trying to show yourself in it. Moving it to show what's living there. That it's you. That you slide through.





Alone or alone with?

Pushing the electrons. Arrow pushing. Pushing arrows.
All of these are options. Going through it. Losing verbs.

I draw it again. It leads to drawing it again.

Is this what it means to study? To do it again until you know it, until it becomes a part of your bones, until it is not you, until it dies. But here I am drawing. Why did you make me?

She sent me a box with a question mark.
I write back that I cannot see what it means. But here is this box with a question mark. Asking me to fill it.

I could tell you, but it would explain nothing.
So what can you say? And why do I have to?





I am trying to feel out my boundaries.
But they are magnetic
And as I come closer, they repel me.

Can you sing a song with a scale?
Can you write with sentences?
Not knowing the order, we look for it.
Can we be unemotional?
Math weeps
Tripping over itself.

Again and again.

I redraw so something else will be revealed to me.
A life-bearing form that belongs to me.
I redraw because you and I both know
That it is probably wrong.
At least incomplete.
Some components unaccounted for.
Too complicated to explain accurately.
Simplified for our current level of understanding.
What pathway, then, do we see?
Does it grow?

There is no danger of these doors closing.
In clouds, faces we will always see.
The most important thing is that which must not appear.





This is the most important moment, he said, holding a ceiling fan.
She laughed at him, and we laughed at her laughing.
A bond made tighter.
Water released—a molecule, not a liquid.
But then so many.
A system preserved
Leading to other systems more or less preserved.
Do I draw it to preserve it?
Or to keep it?
From bacteria to animals.

I can already see the next step. The arrows seem pushed already. Some may call this freedom.
Maybe it is a freedom to do something else.
Maybe it is a freedom to follow.

There is no reason to memorize it, he said, except to prove that you can. Because memorizing it is easier if you understand it. It helps you see how it works and identify what's wrong.

We make our bond rigid, all of us, the same. In so doing, we try secretly to shake. Investing stored energy to show that someone's here. Why does it matter what it looks like? Who cares what it does?





And if you go to medical school, you must learn it again to show that you know this is not. That this is nothing. So you can help people.

I look at the slide.

They asked the artist, the architect, and the scientist if they might call themselves the New Metabolists. The scientist looked back at the slide that he knew showed only chaos, and, while the other two hesitated, he said, Sure, why not? He believed it could not matter if he agreed to that which could not be displayed.

I repeat this again now to repeat it. To remind myself. That it has nothing to do with this and has nothing to do with me.




"But then when you are all the same thing, then you have to go the fine point. In other words, if I'm a black queen and you're a black queen, we can't call each other black queens because we're both black queens. That's not a read, it's just a fact. So then we talk about your ridiculous shape, your saggy face, your tacky clothes."
—Dorian Corey in Paris is Burning

"Sentences and paragraphs. Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are. I can say that as often as I like and it always remains as it is, something that is."
—Gertrude Stein, “Poetry and Grammar” in Lectures in America

"Consider now
a shadow on this body,
how each small
essential unit becomes
a logical
constant, copula that will
have nothing
to do with existence, no
Jay Wright, "banã ngolo" in Disorientations: Groundings