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Shapeshifter
by Magdalena Ball

For years I thought it was a curse: leaving my body to inhabit another. I couldn’t control it: the desire to taste with another’s tongue; to feel the rising of strange skin against cold, on the inside of so much secret pain, as if it were pleasure: a slow burn down the hips, a reckoning.

Eventually I learned how to choose more steadily. I could pinpoint who I would become. To hold myself, in the space of a single breath, until I began to feel the shift: the woman next door; the man in the corner shop; my teachers; my idols. Needless to say, I was now seeing my growing skill as a superpower. Not only for increasing my own abilities, because once I’d been within the body of another, I had their capabilities, memories, and connections as I took on the strengths of those whose lives I joined to mine, but also for empathy. I knew so much more than my own world. I became larger than my tiny frame. I was liquid. Time and space no longer bound me.

But it was not always easy. With each person I inhabited, I also gained their weaknesses, envies, and those hatreds that shrink and crush. I had to pick my subjects carefully. Lately I’ve begun inhabiting non-human forms: animals, birds, plants, even rocks, earth, and fallen leaves have opened themselves to my embrace. The more I do this, the less I find that matter is all that matters. I subsist on these energies. My skin, my bones, my breath is dissolving into the collective consciousness: patterning and continually reshaping. I’m no longer constrained by the limitations of a lifetime. I am a new paradigm. Your evolution. Find me, and you will find yourself.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The exploration of this “skill” (that of sliding into other people) is a bit like what the author does, so in that sense the work is a little meta-poetic. But I also wanted to explore the natural world and the way we can literally move ourselves into another space through observation and breath. There have been times I’ve walked into the forest and just sat on a large rock, breathing in the fresh eucalyptus-scented air and imagined myself part of this scene rather than an interloper — just another arrangement of atoms; just another form of consciousness. This kind of meditation is part of what I was trying to explore in this piece, which is just a bit scary too (because it’s a little like death).

IMAGE: “Self-portrait” by Marc Chagall (1968).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Magdalena Ball is the editor of The Compulsive Reader (compulsivereader.com), and the author of a number of published books of poetry and several novels, the latest of which is Black Cow. A new book of poetry titled Unmaking Atoms is due for release by Gindinderra Press in late 2016.