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  • Millie-Christine
  • Marilyn Nelson (bio)

Millie and Christine McCoy were conjoined twins born in 1851 to parents who were slaves. They became world-famous as "The Two-Headed Nightingale" and "The Eighth Wonder of the World." This poem is written in rondeau-redoublé.

I

Millie, the universal lonelinessof singletons, from womb to grave alone,was not our fate, nor the brief happinessof self-forgetting love which makes two one.

Our fate: surrender to the great unknowncreating power that created usto be ourself, to do what must be done.Now I face a universe of loneliness.

We've lived a unique double consciousness.Black, female, freak, times two: all our life seenby the objectifyingly perversegape of the "normal," who live and die alone.

Identical, inoperably conjoined,we have shared one shadow. Yet behind your face,familiar as my own, hide dreams and painI cannot know, and untold happiness.

You sleep and cough. Each breath may be your last.And your death will be the herald of my own.We're inescapable intimates, blessed and cursedwith each other, two souls merged into one.

We've amassed a trove of memory's gold coin:fame, far-flung travels, purchasing Master's housefor our family, performing before the Queen. . .Our fate was our fusion. Given the choice,who would choose loneliness?

II

The Ancestors believed twins share one soul,one boundaryless self-identity,a paradox of each half 's being the wholeundivided individuality.

With different temperaments from infancy,I've always been duplex, always dual,always both "I" and, at the same time, "we."Which indicates that we're not one shared soul.

Touted as "The Eighth Wonder of the World,"I learned to walk by learning to agreewhere my four legs would go. I learned to yield to boundaryless double identity. [End Page 397]

Compromise begets camaraderie.I played, as I was kidnapped, sold, re-sold,exhibited, examined. On the seaI pattycaked and prattled. We were a whole.

When Master brought Mama to Liverpool,she fainted, seeing me. The court's decreedeclared him owner of the double childundivided by individuality.

Reunited with my enslaved family,I was held apart, fed dainties, schooled,taught the piano. But I wasn't free.Freedom came battles after America pulledin two its one shared soul.

III

"Who am I?" asked the re-united statesafter the war. As if connected twinshad punched each other bloody, blind with rage,for reasons they couldn't wholly comprehend.

I supported my widowed mistress and my kin,by my free wills returning to the stageto be gawked at by singleton women and menin freak shows all over the re-united states.

"Who am I?" I asked, mirroring their gaze,at the same time like them, and unlike them:a hodgepodge of self-doubt, desires, and praise,but a freak, a two-headed monster, conjoined twins.

Reconstructing itself, the nation licked its woundsas industry and expansion, like twin plagues,spread their poisonous microbes on the winds.America was still bloody, still blind with rage.

And America trooped to see me. I was amazedby my power to fascinate all kindsof "normal" Americans, and by the waysall of them resembled my freak-show friends.

Ask a freak where identity begins and ends:Is the midget his height? The fat lady her weight?No, we are each the horizon of a vast mind,each called to contribute something greatto our united state.

IV

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen: Step right up!We who are not as others welcome youto find the essence behind our handicapand the compassion beyond your ridicule.

Enter the community of the freak show,daily facing congenital hardship:the Mule-Faced Lady, the Limbless Torso. . . Welcome, ladies and gentlemen: Step right up! [End Page 398]

Watch me practice a new four-legged dance stepand rehearse a duet. Watch my four hands sew,for the giants' wedding, a bridesmaid's gown of crepe.We who are not as others welcome you.

But much of history is a freak show, too.Freaks live openly, all over the map.Examine...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-6182
Print ISSN
1062-4783
Pages
pp. 397-400
Launched on MUSE
2011-09-23
Open Access
No
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