Shoshana Lovett-Graff

Her Body Under |Non-Fiction|

I was raised on Long Island Sound, where I swam in a stew of seaweed and oil at Lighthouse Point every summer. Black rocks bit my heels and I pinched tiny snails between my fingers. My babysitter told me that near Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale, the fried fish place where I would only order fries, a whale was caught in a net. She drowned in her own home, thrashing against her bedroom, her closed kitchen door. I imagined her body breaking down in the murky water, never again returning to the open sea. I could see them removing her in pieces, her massive body straining against the pull of the current. Since then, I’ve had several dreams about breathing underwater, with whales drawing close enough to shore that I could touch them.

I slept with a new friend, running my hands over her body and feeling breathless about how soft she was. I was new to queerness, and as she lay on top of me, masturbating and breathing deep into my ear, I had a fleeting sensation of being underwater. The space beneath the waves held the presence of bodies bigger and more important than anything onshore.

The first time I went snorkeling, I saw a purple and blue fish glimmering under the coral and thought it was proof of the divine. When I learned to scuba dive, I saw tube sponges as big human bodies and manta rays skirting the sand. I saw a giant grouper and patterned starfish inching their way across the ocean floor. I couldn’t control my buoyancy. I kept floating up and tried to breathe out more air than I contained in my body to lower myself back down, toward the spaciousness I couldn’t enter before. Spaciousness that kept expanding until I wouldn’t emerge the same.

I wrote a poem about that night and never showed it to her.

I am scared of many things. I will not jump off high dives, or venture outside by myself at night. I won’t tell someone how I feel about them until it’s too late, and I let bad things slide by me in conversation because it’s too much work to stop them. I feel weak against the inevitability of slipping, under or into a net that has been drawn beneath me without my noticing.

When I turned twenty-four, I decided that my new priority was to see a whale. I wanted to be knocked over by a spout of water beside my kayak and revel in seasickness after a massive tail knocked into the waves. I wanted to be one of those divers photographed alongside a massive, unblinking eye. I wanted to swim alongside a whale and apologize on behalf of their cousin, caught in the net by Lenny and Joes, and tell them that I mourned her, too. I would tell them that I know how it feels to be drawn into a space you can’t emerge from, and thrash in a new reality. Sometimes, there’s no choice between settling to the bottom or floating to the top. It’s a choice cupped in bigger knowledge than what your body knows.



Shoshana Lovett-Graff is a white, queer, Jewish writer from New Haven, Connecticut. Her creative work has been published by South Broadway Ghost Society, Pittsburgh Poetry Journal, The Flexible Persona (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), Atlas + Alice, The East Coast Literary Review, Poetica, and is forthcoming in QWERTY. She can be found on Twitter at @shoshush20.

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