by Elizabeth Gibson
A starfish is rejected, brutally, when it first admits its strange kind of love, to a star.
The starfish curls at the bottom of the ocean, wrecked. It decides its only way out is to be smaller, and stops feeding.
It spikes out, changes colour, no longer knows itself. The starfish is missing every current and chance of travel. Its kin have wandered on, leaving it to burrow into quiet.
One day, the starfish shuffles to a cloud of blue jellyfish. The nearest, fastest jellyfish takes a look at the spiky starfish. The jellyfish, too, has fallen, from a time of fruit and softness. It is slighter now, barely a wisp of blue smoke and electricity. The jellyfish is happy with its new form, its new life.
The starfish begins to follow the jellyfish, to learn to live, to decipher how to be so pulsingly, penetratingly radiant, when so much of the creature you were has been carved away.
The jellyfish tells the starfish that change is inevitable.
The starfish tries to hear, but will never quite understand. Its loss is overwhelming.
It dreams of its old plumpness, of knowing its every swell, each cushioned, jewelled limb, of grazing on dots of colour and light with no fear or shame. It mourns the version of itself that gazed with five eyes wide with joy and life, up, up past specks of murk, litter, layers of toxic foam, up, to see a sky so purple and close. To believe it really had a chance of speaking with Antares, the star of autumn. That maybe strange and new and gorgeous things could happen to a fat little sea star.
The jellyfish goes on performing, like a turquoise balloon full of glitter.
The starfish accepts its difference and trundles away.
It is at a crossroads, a star, even – so many ways to walk but every direction is tired water, lapping as it always has.
The starfish, for the first time in many tides, looks up.
The starfish is not made of jelly, is not sweet and stinging. The starfish takes what it was born with: survival instinct, an ability to cling, clutch, clamber, weather hellish storms.
The sky is light green. It looks cool and restful. No stars.
The starfish thinks it has a memory from long, long ago of being scooped into a white steep well and then resting on a warm surface with five chubby points, like its own. It remembers a face like an otter’s but smoother, dryer, set with two eyes like pools, scuffed with trails of salt. It remembers an almighty bouncing, a squeak like a dolphin.
It remembers knowing without doubt it had given happiness to somebody just by being found, exactly as it was.
The starfish begins climbing.
Elizabeth Gibson is a poet, performer and tutor in Manchester, UK. Her writing is inspired by city life, self-love, the queer community, mental health, body image, and the environment. In 2020, she was chosen to represent Manchester City of Literature in the Tartu Bus Poetry Project, with her poem “Arrival”, about migration and belonging, translated and shared on bus windows in Tartu, Estonia. In 2021, Elizabeth was awarded a significant DYCP grant from Arts Council England, to allow her to focus on further exploring and owning her queerness through poetry. She edits Foxglove Journal, and tweets and Instagrams as @Grizonne.