There are 206 bones in the human body. Technically, I should be able to name all of them. Practically, I have the big ones down: femur, illum, humerus, clavicle. They’re the ones I’ve looked for in myself, lying in bed and feeling for the points of my hips and the know of my elbow, of following the slope of my shoulder into the hollow of my neck. If I could trace these landmarks, then I was still there, the scaffold that I could hang myself on still intact.
It’s the little ones that give me trouble. The metacarpals, the bones of the palm of the hand that I could see sinewy tendons pulling on were easy enough, but the mysterious joints of the wrist – the scaphoid and pisiform and trazeium – I wanted to excavate those from under my skin, to know their shapes. I wanted to feel the thin lines were they fused together and sense the emptiness of those concavities. I wanted to count the roughness of my ribs, tally 9, 10, 11, 12, pair them with the ridges of my spine, navigate that range completely.
Knowing the body like this is half fascination, half denial: the perverse celebration of revelation by shrinking, feeling more by being less. To name my bones, to point to them, I possess them. To jam my fingertips into the crevices of my hips and palpate and know this is the iliac spine, I feel it, you are mine is to be their master. We venerate the complexity of the body by studying it, but we also objectify: with every new organ I must incorporate into my growing vernacular, I shrink it’s meaning, I shrink myself, to fit, to conquer. To hide.
Do I do this to others? In naming their bones or digging under their ribs to feel for their livers or cutting them open to hold their warm guts in my hands am I praising miracles or possessing them, shrinking them, too?