Journal of Writing & Environment

“Identity Crisis”


My Chaos Seminar is spending its summer

in weekly discussion by the lake—

students sun, sailboats run, children

climb the giant chair—and over the din

of asphalt graders and pavement grinders,

we talk about whether any of us

has an identity that persists. Is it illusion,

this I of our personal homunculus?

Right off we fall into the pit of existential

crisis, agency one test, continuity another,

the work of the definite article a third,

the Buddhist sects give differing answers,

developmental psychologists parade

the seven—or more—stages of woman

and man, Freudians are splitting the unitary self

into a trinity and a rump group is asking

for a definition of reality, and a neighbor

who’s joined us is sighing with nostalgia,

remembering the days of his slacker-talk youth.


I’m left puzzling over our innocent assumption—

that I’m an ongoing, sturdy enterprise. When, really,

if right now you tagged each of my molecules radioactively

with my name you’d see a sort of cloud, spreading

and dispersing in some long plume of exhaled breath

and sluffed skin. Nothing would stay the same,

not even my DNA code mutating with the years,

my memory lengthening and lapsing likewise,

or those name tags zipping through the local

atmosphere. Where’s the I in that? Meanwhile

the sailboats tack and turn, each still the same boat

the whole hour, and probably, even the same crew,

as far as I know.