There is nothing magical about twins. If you believe otherwise, you may as well believe in mermaids and centaurs. One twin sister cannot read the thoughts of the other. Nor does a stabbing pain travel psychic miles to lodge itself in the gut of the brother when his twin is killed in a drunk driving accident. A twin is merely one of two offspring produced in a single pregnancy. But on the bright side, there is no such thing as a so-called “evil twin.”
And just as one should not look for centaurs frolicking among faerie twins in a Hellenic meadow, one should not expect to lie down in that same field and wait for a Muse to show up and hand him a poem. An image may be inspired at the sight of a woman’s well-turned ankle (Homer). A meter may be borrowed from a nightingale’s song (Mandelshtam). A masterpiece may be dashed off in just the span of one feverish night (Blok). But you can bet it won’t have been dispatched from Mount Parnassus. Rather, it is the intimate pairing of experience and language that guides the poet to the poem—that binds the twin to his other.
I am a twin—a monozygotic twin, to be more specific—and I assure you, there is nothing magical about me. Monozygotic, or identical twins, occur when a single egg is fertilized to form one zygote that then divides into two separate embryos with the same fundamental genetic material. Eventually, two separate fetuses develop. It is a random and quite non-magical event occurring in about three of every 1,000 deliveries.Yet it never ceases to capture the imagination of those not randomly selected to become twins themselves.
As one of a pair of twins, I’ve been asked everything from whether I can read my brother’s mind to whether we share orgasms when just one of us is getting lucky. To be fair, when we were young, my brother and I did look remarkably alike, and to some extent still do today. There have been times when looking at yearbook photographs that even we couldn’t tell who was who. And it didn’t help that our mother dressed us in similar clothing. Our “sameness” has caused heads to turn and has stopped people in their tracks. A neighborhood kid once even begged to allow him to present us at his class Show-and-Tell. (I still remember running away with my brother when the would-be P.T. Barnum came to fetch us for his elementary school freak show.)
While apparently captivated by our similarities, people have seemed equally obsessed with noting our differences and identifying reciprocal traits in our respective appearances or characters. By turns, I’ve been the fat twin and the thin twin; the good twin and the bad twin; the one with a girlfriend and the one without. And my brother has been labeled smarter than I am or the more artistically talented one. More imaginative observers even have tried to figure out which one of us is the straight twin and which is the gay one.We’ve been stopped by strangers and compared on the street, and we’ve been verbally maligned, even assaulted, as though one of us was Frankenstein’s monster and the other his equally gruesome double. So we found ways to differentiate ourselves. For as long as I can recall, my brother wanted to be a visual artist of some sort—a cartoonist, a printmaker, and finally a painter. While I, too, was creatively inclined, I knew that I could never become one myself; he had already claimed that path. I compromised and started writing poetry. So, as well as being the fat one or the one without a girlfriend, one of us became the artist and the other the poet—assigned roles meant to test the tether that bound us together.