Elanor Broker is a civil rights attorney and erstwhile Christmas tree seller. She is an avid runner and cyclist, an utterly humorless cat mom, and a founding editor of Sun Star Review literary journal in Portland and Seattle.
Full fathom five thy father lies;
of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change
into something rich and strange.
It’s the worst kind of cliché: sea change. We accumulate these phrases in the churn of language; once wild, born rich and inscrutable, they are domesticated now, stultified and ground clean by common usage. We throw out their husks without thought or feeling. “Sea change” is a particularly tragic victim of this fall to transactional space, to quotidian space, thrown in to mean “big change” in the most literal way: ashen and bloodless, rote and businesslike. Frankly, we’ve lost the magic. In The Tempest, Ferdinand stands shipwrecked, the storm past, the seas calm, staring out over sparkling water, seeking his lost father. A faery appears to lead him away with a song. It’s a weird magic, transcendent and undefinable. Incredible power flows there, unknown in the deep, down in the dark, opaque and shifting. It’s bound up in the sea, a concept inherently too big to hold all at once. You can only look in pieces.
It fits, I say.
I thought it would, she says.
That’s so weird.
How’s it weird? she says.
She’s finally gotten me into one of her old bras, and what a happy accident that we share a band size, that we fit. It’s overdue; the hormones have worked fast and I’ve needed a proper one for a while. Now I stand at the mirror and all I can feel is that undertow. I’m pulled down, sideways, head over tail. It’s so familiar, yet I’m stuck, lost, unable to find the right words. I want to start speaking of joy, of fulfillment, of comfort, and sure, that’s all bound up there. But nothing quite captures the depth of the feeling, of that sense of… completeness. The sense of truly inhabiting my own bones. The person I’m seeing is so strange and so right, and I realize that I didn’t even understand the concept of rightness before this change. I follow the lines of the straps, the way they lift, the way they mark and divide my lines, clearly framing what’s now there. I trace my own lines, new lines, right lines, recognizing how contours have rounded and softened, slimmed or filled out. I want to append labels to it but the only one that breaks through is me. It’s sublime in the most literal sense, overpowering, welling up from a personal deep. Wholly unfathomable.
those are pearls that were his eyes
I pull the stick across in a smooth stroke and it’s done. The line is solid and clean, and I sit there a minute wondering just when it happened. My fingers learned the trick—the confident stroke of the top liner has become natural and ordinary. They know just how much pressure to use as they trace back and forth building the bottom line. They’re not quite done yet: as I dab and blend the shadow, a trick or two still eludes me. And of course now and then it all just falls apart. But this morning, it just goes so quick and easy. It should take longer, and I sit there, uncertain in the extra time. I have to fill it, so I take a minute, just staring into those old new eyes.
of his bones are coral made
I fall out of bed and the sun’s shining in sideways. I sit down cross-legged at the long mirror, pushing my thatched hair from my face. I haven’t even put my glasses on yet. It’s hazy like beach glass, scrubbed like beach wood. I run a slendered finger along my collar bone, feeling the pronounced contour. The bones are still there, the same bones. But it’s peculiar and electric, the drag of the whorls of my fingers across that softer skin. I follow their curve, out to the joint, those lighter shoulders, down a slender arm. It’s a cold morning and the gooseflesh stands up right away. Always cold these days, it seems.
nothing of him that doth fade
There is a tuft of hair there, or at least there was, in the hollow where my collar bones meet, growing straight up—a tuft that I’ve inherited in toto from my own father. This morning, it’s hard to find it, faded near to nothing. All these hims, all these legacies. Time moves on, and I’m losing my tie to the paternal him. Time moves on, and I lose that tie to my own vestigial himness. It slips away like a dark interstitial dream. I lose my grip on who him even was—sometimes an actor’s role, sometimes a banana suit, sometimes an avatar. Sometimes a shade of me never quite understood. Anyway, now he’s lost in the storm. Now I stand there as the sun sparkles on a calm sea, surveying the flotsam thrown up from the ocean deep, and I find a girl there, still half-buried in sand. Even here, looking close, she’s hard to pin down. She’s slippery, in this light a mermaid, in this light a goblin shark…
into something rich and strange
And maybe Ariel is an embarrassing trans cliché, this faery written with male pronouns, traditionally played by women, and ultimately sprung from a world where both concepts are irrelevant. She/her he/him they/them… what do these phrases mean to something so elemental? Ariel the archetypal enby. It’s not the words that matter; it is truly and simply being. That’s the secret to fighting cliché: it can’t just be words. So you cut them out. You decide there’s just no damned point in chasing the words. You let yourself get lost in the image, the feeling. It’s the splash and pull of a long rolling wave about your ankles. It’s the way you crinkle your eyes to shade the glimmer of the sun on the water. It’s the sound of sea, that mishmash of vibrato, staccato, legato, birds and waves and wind and the pattering of driven sand. It’s the taste of kelp and salt. Ariel sings but it’s not the words you feel. And you know that you can’t resist that tidal pull. You know you must follow.