“Some are transformed just once
And live their whole lives after in that shape.
Others have a facility
For changing themselves as they please.”
They talk about mothers turning into stones,
hunters turning into stags but rarely speak
of individuals changing within themselves;
just souls inhabiting different bodies.
So tell me, what is a myth?
When I was a toddler, tucked into bed and refusing
to give in to slumber, my mother would instruct
me to pick two objects with which she’d create
a story from scratch. The curtain and the clock.
The pillow and the dresser. Lacking
creativity, I would recycle my choices
based on what was currently in view;
there is only so much one can see
from a supine position in a bedroom.
Still, my mother would lie beside me
and bring these objects to life, giving voice
to the curtains who wished the clock would halt
his noisy ticking, the dresser who existed
in eternal envy of the pillow that had frequent
interaction with me. The tales awakened
rather than sedated me.
Is that a myth — making the inanimate animate?
A body can turn into another body
without external transformation —
I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it when I went from feeding
myself one year to needing help the next —
on the outside everything looked the same.
I’ve seen it when I went from one day sitting
unsupported to the next day needing a chest strap
to keep me from falling forward, constantly —
still my body looked the same. And I’ve seen it
when my best friend went from helping me
one minute to being awarded for it the next —
this is the moment I was perhaps most transformed,
when the difference between others and me,
that veil they speak of, revealed itself
for the first time — my body was exactly, exactly
the same. I remain in that shape, even now.
And when at elementary school we began
to create drama, snickering at boys and whispering
about crushes, it was not long before I could name
for each of my friends at least one if not two boys
who were in love with them. Joey brought Hannah
a stingray stuffed animal on Valentine’s day
(stingrays were Hannah’s favorite). Steven professed
his undying love for Hayley right in front of my eyes.
Then one day, while brushing my hair,
my mother told me someone had a crush on me.
My best friend Lauren had said so to her mom.
But why hadn’t Lauren told me herself?
At age seven I was more saddened by the idea
that my mother felt the need to mythologize
a figure who fancied me than by the thought
of lacking a secret admirer altogether.
Is that a myth — a claim that may never be verified?
Actaeon stumbles upon the naked Diana
then finds himself not man but stag.
Where can we place the blame? On the hunter who took
aimless steps through the woods? On the goddess,
defending herself in a world full of rape and terror?
Is this what defines a myth —
when a character is transformed
as a punishment for something beyond their own control?
If these things are so, perhaps my body
is a transformation myth. The way it carries my soul,
making the inanimate animate. The way it is at once
changed and ever-changing, determined by the neurons
that survive within it (a kind of punishment, it feels,
on some days). The way I will never
truly know why, oh why, it was made this way,
or whether it even exists: such a thing as a disabled body.
Opening quote from Ted Hughes’s Tales from Ovid