Lesson

by Catharina Coenen

The picture in third-grade science illustrates wind strength as smoke rising from a chimney: Straight up equals calm, a zero on the Beaufort scale. One is a curve, two an angled trail, three a flat streamer.

I frown.

“Where does the smoke go?”

“Away.”

“Away, where?”

“Into the atmosphere.”

I imagine the atmosphere as a snow globe, smoke as ink.

“The atmosphere fills up with smoke?”

“No, it goes away. The wind dilutes it out.”

I think of the car, the way my father’s cigarette exhales white drifts, the way they curl, disperse and fog, the way my stomach pushes upward in the curves, the way I cannot hold my breath.

Loneliness equals queasiness beneath the sternum, a sense of falling as you fail to grasp “away.”

Catharina Coenen is a first-generation German immigrant to Northwestern Pennsylvania, where she teaches college biology. Her creative non-fiction essays are forthcoming or have appeared in Christian Science Monitor, The Southampton Review Appalachian Heritage, and elsewhere.

 

Artwork by: Sergio Cabezas