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Poem: "The Steamsmith" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Steamsmith"

This poem came out of the November 1, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a detailed character prompt from marina_bonomi who also sponsored this poem.

"The Steamsmith" is steampunk, and features an odd form of alchemical science; the physics, biology, and other parameters in this setting differ considerably from those in our consensus reality.  I've included some vocabulary notes below the poem; the etymology is largely Greek.  You can read more about the classical elements online.  There is a matching poem, "The Four Humours," which delves into interactions between that alchemical science and various types of people.

Also, I've asked someone to britpick this but it's gotten sponsored before that could be completed.  I did make time this morning to run the poem through a British English spellchecker.  If anyone spots something that doesn't seem to fit the context, please let me know.  I'm a lot more fluent with British than most Americans, but there are still things I miss -- and I'm only somewhat familiar with steampunk as a genre.


The Steamsmith


It was quite a sensation
when Maryam Smith moved into
the quiet middle-class neighbourhood
full of tailors and bank tellers and tutors.

She didn't come in a hansom with a baggage cart
drawn by a team of ordinary horses,
nor even in a fancy new steam-waggon
with its engine chuffing and whistling
in the brisk London air.

No, she came marching in her own black boots
with her tommies clanking along behind in a parade,
bright gears whirring as they carried her worldly goods
up the front steps of the little brick house.
Her walking stick clicked against the cobblestones
as she came, and she waved it in the air
to organise the tommies in their work,
deft as a conductor directing an orchestra.

The neighbours leaned out of doors and windows
to watch, for they had rarely seen such a sight.
Her white gloves were very crisp
against the smooth dark chocolate of her skin.
When she smiled, her teeth stood out
like almonds in a dark-toasted tea biscuit.
Her hair was done up in dozens of tiny knots
all over her head, fastened with shiny brass fittings.

Gleaming proudly on the lapel of her frock coat
was a pin made of silver and gold --
the silver crescent of the moon for Water and
the gold circle of the sun for Fire,
its edge notched with teeth to form a gear --
the emblem of the Steamsmith guild.

(They hadn't wanted to let her in, of course,
but she was more intelligent and more refined
than any three of them put together,
and after she demonstrated how to
crack light into its component elements,
separating a molecule of phos
into an atom of aer  and an atom of pyra,
they would have looked like complete cads
to keep her out, and they couldn't have that.
So Maryam Smith got her guild pin.)

The women in the neighbourhood gossiped,
of course, but it did them little good.  She would
disappear into her carriage house for days at a time,
having turned it into a private laboratory
from which colourful plumes of smoke
emerged at unpredictable intervals.
The men swore she would blow the place up,
twiddling around with things a woman
had no business handling,
but she never did.

Then one rainy afternoon,
a steam-carriage sent to pick up a tutor
broke down in the street near her house.
Maryam popped up next to the chauffeur.
"I say, old chap, from the sound of the engine
there's a leak in your hood that's letting in water --
and the least bit of hudor  in the arche
will shut your fuel cycle right down,"
she said cheerfully as she propped her umbrella
against the upraised bonnet of the steam-carriage.

With that she stripped off her white leather gloves,
meticulously dried off the engine with her handkerchief,
and wedged a bit of putty into a tiny hole in the bonnet.
"That should do until you get home," said Maryam,
"though you'd best get that hole soldered properly
as soon as possible.  Good day, lads!"
She tipped her hat at them and strode away,
leaving the chauffeur and the tutor staring dazedly
as she sprang up the steps to her front door.

The next day, the tutor's wife called with an invitation to tea,
and the chauffeur brought a calling card from his lord,
and that was the end of the rude talk for a while.

* * *
aer -- the element of Air

arche -- a prime steamwork fuel; a molecule consisting of one atom of aer (Air)  and two of pyra (Fire).  It quits working if exposed to hudor (Water).

hudor -- the element of Water

phos -- light; a molecule consisting of one atom of aer (Air) and one of pyra (Fire)

pyra -- the element of Fire

steamsmith -- an expert in alchemical science and technology

steamwork -- alchemical science and technology

tommies -- automatons, robots, androids; fairly sophisticated models that resemble people

***************************

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42 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 2nd, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
That third verse begs to be painted, I wish I had the talent.

Do I see another series in the making? ;-)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>That third verse begs to be painted, I wish I had the talent.<<

Well, I can think of at least two options:
1) Give it to meeksp as a prompt for Story Sketches.
2) Show it to your husband.

>>Do I see another series in the making? ;-) <<

Yep. I figured that as soon as I read the description in your prompt, and then "The Four Humours" emerged later, so there are two poems in this setting to start with.
marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

LOL, I read it to him as soon as you sent the preview.
He's not really into steampunk illustration *but* he'll definitely paint a portrait of Maryam for me (and I'll pass it on, of course).
She's been in my mind for a while and 'Maryam' is my user name on a steampunk site I occasionally visit.
You gave me a start with her hairdo,I hadn't put it in the prompt but that's exactly how I visualize it.
moonwolf1988 From: moonwolf1988 Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't notice much when I went through this earlier, sorry I couldn't get back to you before it got sponsored (I've had a pounding headache most of the day), but colourful needs a u if you're using British English. You picked up on neighbourhood though, which was the only other thing I was going to mention.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Fixed!

Thank you for pointing that out. Spelling seems to be harder to switch tracks with than vocabulary.

I really appreciate you looking over this for me. Don't worry too much about speed -- marina_bonomi can be a very fast pounce on sponsoring things. Ideally I try to do any necessary proofreading before I post a poem, but it's not always possible given the way several of my sponsors watch the fishbowl like eager cats. But that's okay; people are also tolerant about me going back to revise things that I've posted. Crowdfunding often involves open-source, in-view editing.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
*giggle* I like her. I like her a lot.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 2nd, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that. Feel free to prompt future appearances.
siliconshaman From: siliconshaman Date: November 2nd, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh now I DO like her, and her universe!

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 4th, 2011 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm glad to hear that. I think Maryam is gaining fans rapidly.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 3rd, 2011 12:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>I love the bits about Alchemical Elements and Molecular Structure! Science! But different!<<

*wink* "It's science, Jim, but not as we know it."

That is, it can be studied rationally, experimented with, and replicated. It has laws and patterns which can be discovered and described. From what I've seen, I think they understand the four main elements pretty well, but they have only a partial grasp of aether so far. They know some common molecules, but nowhere near all of them yet and are still figuring out which is made of what and how many. So we're at the exciting part of their industrial and scientific revolution...

>>And yes, Maryam is certainly a character who demands one's attention. In the best way, of course.<<

... and there's a smart black gal applying a whetstone to the cutting edge of it. Won't this be fun?

I've noticed that Maryam is an interesting blend of quiet and conforming vs. flashy and individualistic. She's a black woman in a field dominated by white men, so she stands out; she tends to dress and act like a gentleman, which sort of makes her blend in when she's with them, but outside that context if someone looks closely, it stands out instead. She can be gloriously flamboyant with her automatons, then discreetly pop up and fix something in two minutes. The contrast fascinates me.
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marina_bonomi From: marina_bonomi Date: November 3rd, 2011 01:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

>I've noticed that Maryam is an interesting blend of quiet and conforming vs. flashy and individualistic. She's a black woman in a field dominated by white men, so she stands out; she tends to dress and act like a gentleman, which sort of makes her blend in when she's with them, but outside that context if someone looks closely, it stands out instead. She can be gloriously flamboyant with her automatons, then discreetly pop up and fix something in two minutes. The contrast fascinates me.<

All true, your poem has put her into focus for me, now I see her as a kind of trickster, the one who is a coltural hero (the inventor or discoverer) and who uses humour to throw the status quo off-balance or to make people see under a different perspective.
Thank you.
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: February 14th, 2015 03:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Awesome! Very interesting character.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 14th, 2015 03:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like her.
42 comments or Leave a comment