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‘[11] Sodium’ first appeared in Tricia Dearborn, Autobiochemistry (UWAP, 2019). It also appeared in Bianca Nogrady (ed.), The Best Australian Science Writing 2019 (NewSouth Publishing).

11 Na Sodium

a metal so light it floats

a metal you can cut with a knife

a metal never found free in nature


when a shaving is pared away

sodium’s cut surface

shines glorious silver


but tarnishes in seconds

that incredible lustre

transformed to the dull grey of sodium oxides


heated in air, sodium burns

with a brilliant golden-yellow flame

tossed into water, it explodes


neat sodium must be swaddled

in a nonreactive substance

stored under kerosene, under oil


I wanted to be the pure metal

solely myself, self-sufficient,

swaddled in the safety


of needing no one

now I know we’re never pure

beginning as we do as admixture


a dollop

of the genetically new,

from the outset, chemically intermingled


then we separate, but never completely

even when we feel entirely alone

our mirror neurons


prove us liars, firing

when we see the other damaged

or delighted, as if it were


our hand

poked with a blunt needle

or stroked by another’s hand


I grew up in a house of liars

a houseful of people

pretending to be separate       


but humans are never

found free in nature

it’s how we’re designed — connection


as vital as oxygen

intermingled, impure

we shine