The Science of Loss – Preeti Vangani

Illustration by Ilisha Dhond

I saw my mother for a total of three times

over the two years that she suffered from a disease

that took away the one person who loved me unconditionally.


I couldn’t gather words in my mouth, when someone

asked me what she was suffering from. I’d say it’s not serious,

she’s getting better, I’d say the doctors are still unclear

but never say cancer.


One noon I saw her collecting her locks of hair,

fallen when she tried combing them out thinly

to cover as much baldness as she could.

I saw them fallen in the feet of the little temple

that lies below a full-length mirror in her room.

She gathered up those clumps and folded her palms

in prayer, with her fists holding them tight.


I don’t know what she asked for, that noon in prayer

did she ask for this illness to recede?

did she ask for her hair to grow back?

I think she said, nothing like that ever happen to her daughter.


May my daughter’s hair grow long,

may she live long, may she live much longer than me.

Soon after she left us, I opened all of her files.

Scans, MRIs, X-rays, exposing life-taking tumors,

on a life-giving body.


I read each one of the reports, decoding their science

dropping of blood corpuscles, prescriptions of  Tarceva

anta-acids and anti-depressants,

rate of radiation, catharsis of chemotherapy,

dosage of drugs, diaries of deterioration.


I learnt and spoke the language of cancer,

in hope that she might come back

because I had finally acknowledged

her suffering and its name.


I have taken this science and made it my own, every time

I cough, I go to WebMD and key in my symptoms,

an itchy rash or an under eye spot, absorbing

more sciences to learn about new diseases

that could potentially connect me to her

I touch myself like the magazine says

to look for odd lumps and swellings

But all I have is a swollen heart

and an inflamed sense of loss

no blood test can diagnose


The science of loss

is lost in me

Preeti Vangani lives in Mumbai, India and loves to experiment with theater & poetry. She writes page & stage poems, and has been passionately performing spoken word poetry around the world since 2012. With a knack for storytelling, Preeti likes to dive deep into questions around loss, regret and grief. She questions the status of otherwise commonplace relationships, often raising bold, introspecting questions about identity & gender through her personal experiences.