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THE PROCESS OF BECOMING

The first time I was born, my egg
sac contained one molecule
of Caesar's last breath, two selenium
atoms from Madame Curie's hair
and a calcium crystal from Joan of Arc.
My mitochondria could be traced back to Eve,
and before her to an amoeba, whose
endoplasmic reticulum and nucleic acids
had met in the cosmic soup.

The second time I was born, in 1948,
I was English, but my genetic memory
recalled the cries of the potato famine,
and I felt the disgrace of poverty
in my bones. I witnessed the Queen's
coronation on T.V. and ate liver
and onions at least once a week.
I spoke like them but I didn't fit in.

The third time I was born fully clothed
in an Indiana diner in 1979.
I found myself listening to "Grease"
on the juke-box, stunned by a plate of grits.
My first words were "et tu Brute?"
When asked, I could not recall where I was
on the day Kennedy was shot, but I could
recite the periodic table and sing
the "Marseilles." This time
I had to learn the language.
Before long I had assimilated so well,
no one could tell the difference.

The fourth time it will probably feel
as if I leaned forward
with closed eyes, arms extended
from the wing-stubs of my scapulae
and fell from the sky.

      — Sharon Carter