top of page




Spontaneous Human Combustion

Alfonso Manalastas

In the intersection of souls

you will find that death—languid in its process

and ephemeral in its pace—is a conquest

sought only by the living. 

You will discover the last splinters

of a life half-lived, how the news

of one’s birth was celebrated

by the whole barrio, feasts mounted

by the same eager hands that now push

dirt and rubble over your decaying body.

They say in death, hair and fingernails

continue to grow. What comfort

it brings me to learn that long after

our passing, some part of us will persist

to disrupt the communion of the living that

thrives and corrupts above.

If not in life, may we forfeit their dreams,

sanction their desires, may we

harpoon their deepest devotions and find

all this to be possible in death.

May we come to realize that the door

to heaven is an expressway toll gate,

clogged by the vehicles of a crowded city

emptied clean by the jubilant holidays.

If death is design, consider the car crash.

The weeping windshield. The greening

of the stoplight. Consider the coiled traffic

parting sideways for that one car

to make its way to the lamppost; its approach,

both swift and head on. Once, five friends

inside a car phoned me minutes

before they dived into a ditch

outside my hometown. All five make

it out alive. In keeping with tradition,

we celebrate the deaths that do not happen yet

(thank hospice workers, light a candle, etc.).

My mother reminds me had it been

any other circumstance, I would have wedged

my scrawny body between drunk friends

on the backseat of the same car, and who knows

if I come out as lucky. Luck?

Luck holds no power here. There are

no smoke alarms inside a gas chamber,

which is to say, what dies is meant to die.

In the intersection of souls

you will find that death is a skillfully crafted

chain-reaction of things. The word accident bears

no meaning to a hand that writes and revises.

The acid holes in my stomach have been written,

and so have the poison clouds in my lungs.

Among all spontaneous human combustions

recorded in history, the sixth

common characteristic is this: all bodies

leave a trail of greasy, fetid ashes

in the area of explosion.

The true tragedy of death isn’t in the loss,

but in the utterances of such loss,

in the bent-backed tulips poised on our stones,

in how the living is left to clean up

what greasy, fetid mess we leave behind.

bottom of page