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Theseus’ Ship

And they call this the Theseus’ ship paradox:
The great hero returned triumphant
And left his ship in some Athenian harbor,
A floating reminder of his victory
Until it began to rot.

If I replace the broken parts with new ones,
Is it still Theseus’ ship?
How much is something allowed to change
Before it becomes something else?
The floorboards fell apart and
Now there’s fresh ones where they lay.
The oars were switched out,
The figurehead repainted—
I have a new favorite song.

And I like black beans now,
And I draw eyes differently than I used to,
And I’ve set fire to my bridges
And built new ones where they stood.
Bits of my personality wear away,
The gaps are filled in by someone else—
How long until I’m no longer recognizable?

If my future self is a stranger to me,
If I can no longer stand where I once stood
And see what I once saw,
If I’m not who I once was
Am I still Theseus’ ship?

Or some other vessel now,
One that should be familiar but isn’t,
A lingering sense of deja vu?
If you replace every part of something
Will they call it a paradox?
Or will they just call it growth?
And does it matter?
Whether this is the ship
Or just a ship?
It floats, after all,
And it’s mine.

—Amanda Budejen

Illustration by Charlotte Rica.
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