My evil twin is full of feminine
self-deprecation. Don’t be taken in
by her rapt nods and deference, which mask
her sly, satiric humor. While you bask
in her respect, she’ll turn away and grin.
You think you’ve won an argument? Her chin
is cocked. She’s packing nitroglycerin.
Why can’t she let the matter slide? Don’t ask
my evil twin.
One minute she’s as sweet as saccharin,
but then, like any snake, she sheds her skin.
If you suspect that it’s a hopeless task
to coax this genie back into her flask,
you’re right. But don’t be fooled: I’ve always been
my evil twin.
Susan McLean writes: “I have always loved the French repeating forms for their songlike appeal. The villanelle is my favorite among them, and I have also written a fair number of triolets, but the rondeau is a form I have rarely tried. At fifteen lines long, with only two rhymes, it is extremely demanding to write, since in English most words have relatively few rhymes. That difficulty made for a fascinating challenge and some unusual rhymes. It’s hard to imagine another poem in which I would use both ‘nitroglycerin’ and ‘saccharin.’
Twins have a long history of featuring in comedies of mistaken identity, from Plautus to Shakespeare and onward, but the ‘evil twin’ is a relatively recent development, I think, with origins in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. Soap operas, comic books, and serial dramas are full of them. Yet in real life, most people behave differently at different times and with different people. Actors often prefer playing the villain to playing the hero; viewers love to watch characters who break taboos with impunity, a sort of vicarious release from the inhibitions of civilized life. So, is this poem a self-portrait? More a self-caricature, but caricatures are often more recognizable than photographs.
This poem was originally published in the online journal Umbrella, and it also appears in my second book, The Whetstone Misses the Knife.”
Susan McLean has two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of Martial, Selected Epigrams. Her poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.