The earliest hurricanes were all named after women
“Anarchy has historically been identified as female.”
– Ursula Le Guin
There’s something romantic about taming a tempest,
about subduing a storm. When sailors used to be lost
at sea, they’d pray to God but hope that the goddesses
on their maidenheads would save them from capsizing.
And so generations have learned that the only way to
reason with disaster was to make it their queen.
On the anniversary of my first heartbreak,
Co-Star christens me as Azula. Love is possible,
the stars tell me, so try to be spontaneous. Try to
be the girl that others want to be, they urge. So
Azula learned from the one girl she knew she could
count on to teach her how to perform authentically,
and she learns how to smile. She learns that boys
will love you when you do and believe anything you
say until you reveal yourself to be more than that
– a rose with far too many thorns to hold.
The last time I laughed at a boy’s joke when it
wasn’t the slightest bit funny, he had unabashedly
tried to kiss me, unbidden. I don’t remember the
aftermath aside from the shock and running away.
I didn’t look back, if only to hold on to my anger
without spilling over. You might have the urge
to punish others for your dissatisfaction, the stars
say. Don’t, they advise me. But how can they say that
from experience if they’ve never been able to do so?
Power in spirituality and self today – despite being
born an air sign, my star chart sings with the blessing
of being a hidden water sign, a body of water
that was born to survive and will never drown.
Studies show that hurricanes with feminine names
are deadlier than those with masculine names, but
only because they are perceived to be less so. And
so Azula, like her namesake before her, sets fire
to the room and burns it all down. The boy never
sees it coming – he sees her brother, but he never
sees her, or Ty Lee from behind all of her flirting,
or Mai from behind her cool girl apathy. I don’t burn
down his room but I make sure the boy never sees
me again either. In this story, we rekindle our
connection to our old names. In the past we may
have been goddesses in our own right, figureheads
of ruin. In the future, we find our names on
hurricane watch lists. I’ve always known how to
hold roses without pricking my fingers. In another
universe, before the boy dares to even lean forward,
I present him with a bouquet of wishes and watch
his hands bleed. The ocean always did love the reddened sailor –
whose bodies did you think the sea swallowed anyways?
Azula Goes to the Beach Again
Only at night, because she can’t stand the
children, watching them still grabbing
fast to their ice cream fantasies, their
fingers, sticky and sweet. Azula
stopped liking ice cream after the
first summer she spent shivering
alone with no one to hold her. That was
the summer she learned where fire
came from, when she learned that she
didn’t ever have to lose herself to cold
shadows ever again. Besides – ice cream
spoils too easily, melts at the slightest
touch of warmth. She prefers custard tarts
because they’re not as artificial, not too
sweet and can, for the most part, withstand
the heat. But still – they can curdle, turn
in over themselves and collapse inwards.
Curdling is so easy for milk, for cheese,
and for smiles. The first time Azula saw her
father’s smile twist up unpleasantly was
also the last time she saw her brother whole.
She didn’t cry even when he did that night,
knowing that despite everything, fire can
bring new life as much as it does death.
There are no fires left to burn today, no flames
left to shroud her when the night is so soft.
There is no need to ignite when the light is
enough of a promise. Like all daughters,
she wishes there were enough certainty in
this life to ease the fear of disappearing into
the folds of history. Whether it be by name
or by body or by root entanglement, Azula
knows that she’s destined for destruction
in one way or another. So she looks to the
mirror, and practices her smile. She trains
her eyes to harden in the light and to reflect
the expectant glows of others. The mirror
becomes her best friend, not because she’s a
narcissist, but because it’s the only time
she can look someone in the eye without
being afraid of what words may come after.
Tonight, the cloudless sky peels back to
reveal the Milky Way. She revels in this
serpent, hoping that someday, she’ll
be able to reach such heights as well:
to be beautiful, to be admired, and to be
loved when no one watches. It’s so easy
to be obsessed with stars when you
are in love with the warmth from burning and
the thought of falling into endless uncertainty
scares you. But there’s no one around to see
where she’ll drop off the face of the earth
here. It’s the silence that draws her back to
the beach, the comfort in knowing that
all that can exist for her tonight will be swept
away with the tide. Though she rises with
the sun, only the moon knows her secrets.
How she wishes that secrets didn’t have to
stay buried like this. How she wishes that
the skeletons in her closet could come
back to life so that she could bury them
properly. If summer is the season before
the dead return to rest, let it be the one
in which Azula passes through quietly.
She knows by now that while the
world ought to be softer, it so rarely is.
About Stephanie Tom
Stephanie Tom is currently studying words, people, communication, and technology at Cornell University. She has previously been recognized by the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the International Torrance Legacy Creativity Awards, and the international Save the Earth Poetry Contest. She was a 2019 winner of the Poets & Writers Amy Award and is the author of Travel Log at the End of the World (Ghost City Press, 2019). When she’s not writing she dabbles in dance, martial arts, and graphic design.