Poetry: Two Poems by Stephanie Tom

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.