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Poem: "Weaving Damask" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Weaving Damask"
This poem came out of the October 1, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] rosieknight. It also fills the "alias" square in my 8-13-13 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics. You'll notice that it skips ahead in the timeline, so I'll have to add some interim pieces later, but I think it makes sense with the foundation we already have.

WARNING: The following poem contains college-related distress, identity issues, moderate violence, superpowered combat, respiratory distress, reference to a past suicide attempt, and use of a chemical weapon. If these are sensitive topics for you, please think carefully before deciding whether to read onward.


"Weaving Damask"


Maze

I like Method Acting 150
because it helps get my head straight.
If I concentrate hard enough,
I can imagine myself as a director
and my headmates as actors.
Then it's easier for us to switch
on purpose instead of on accident.

Clarity makes a pretty good director, too,
but none of the others seem to
have a knack for it.

We're learning, a little,
how to talk with each other
but it's still difficult
so we rely on notes a lot.

The notebook for this class
is full of chatter in everyone's handwriting,
but it just looks like method acting
to my classmates.

They envy my acting skill.
I don't explain that it isn't all acting.

Sometimes we sneak in
a snippet of power --
Mira's illusion to enhance the makeup,
or Ham's telekinesis to nudge a falling sandbag
away from somebody's head --
but it's not really superhero work,
not yet. We know we're not ready.

And then all of a sudden,
the moment calls us to the mark
whether we're ready or not.

"I am Farce!" shouts a shrill voice,
and a motley figure slides down the curtain cord
to land on the lighting bridge over the stage --
literally motley, a jester's costume of orange and green
with a black-and-white tragicomic mask.
"Behold the banana peel of fate!"

Everything begins to go wrong at once --
students tripping over each other,
props falling down, people screaming,
lights flickering or blowing out.

Power fills the air like static electricity,
making my hairs stand on end.
I can feel it now, pulling
at the energy within me.

I throw my heaviest book at Farce,
and she staggers from the blow, almost falling.
Then she turns and flees into the shadows.

The professor is shouting
something about security.

They're nary to a man,
no superpowers to match
a threat like this.

So I do the only thing I can think of --
I dash off in pursuit,
running through Costuming
where I grab a loud silk coat
and a blank white mask
to hide behind.

My headmates are pushing at me,
some clamoring for an explanation
and others struggling for control.
I don't want to be driving this bus
right now, so I let go.

-----

Ham

I come to the front already running,
switching between strides,
stumbling a bit before I catch my balance.

Somehow life isn't nutty enough
just trying to share a body
with a bunch of other people
and learn to handle powers
that none of us wanted --

no, some chick
with the worst fashion sense
in the history of ever
has to go apeshit in acting class.

Farce throws her power at me,
and junk spills in my path.
I leap over it.

She shouts, then,
loud enough to make my ears hurt.

I can hardly hold on to the body;
Keane wants to come out
but I push him back
because fighting is my thing,
instead of his.

She turns on me,
drawing breath to shout again,
and I can't help flinching away --

-----

Mira

I fling up illusions, distortions,
willing myself to be somewhere
other than where I really am.

Farce shouts, but it's not as bad
when she can't aim well;
her voice cuts off in a squeak.

I sidle along the wall,
using my power as a veil.
It's exhausting to keep up --
I haven't had enough practice yet.

Farce does something different, then,
making the lights flicker and spit.
It's enough to break my concentration
and then she can spot me.

I wince away from the crazy lady.

-----

Ham

I pull Mira behind me,
back into the mindspace,
as I step forward into the body
to deal with Farce again.

The power zaps and zings at me,
twisting my ankles under my weight,
tugging my shoelaces loose.

I trip and fall,
but two can play at that game --
I grab at her feet with my power
and manage to tackle her,
bringing Farce down to the floor
underneath me as I go.

If I had the body
that I imagine myself to be,
I'd have her sure and sound --

but I have only
the body that Maisie left us,
girl-slender with a little muscle and
not enough mass to hold someone down.

It works anyway.
That's strange.

Farce should be fighting me
but she's not,
gone almost limp underneath.

I can hear her
gasping and wheezing for breath.
She must not work out much --
poor choice for a supervillain.

I rap on her mask and say,
"Hey, Darth Vader, what gives?
You have some reason
for roughing up Method Acting 150?"

She doesn't answer,
just lies there panting.

Clement is tugging at me,
insisting that something is wrong,
so I get out of his way.


Clement

Farce lies flaccid and rasping
underneath the slight press of my body.
I don't dare roll off, but I move
to take more of my weight
on my own knees,
keeping ahold of her
with leverage and pressure points.

I get enough spillover
from Ham's knowledge of self-defense
plus my own grasp of anatomy
to have some idea of what I'm doing.
Some. Maybe enough.

What I do know for sure
is that her breathing has gone wrong,
and that's never a good sign.

"You don't sound too good," I say,
hoping the show of sympathy will help.

I loosen her clothing a little,
and get a knee in the crotch for my trouble.
It hurts, but not as much as it should --
sometimes I am glad that my testicles
are not actually attached to this body.

"I'm trying to help," I say.
"Could you maybe not try to kill me?"

I reach for the mask,
and she fights me then,
but I manage to tilt it just enough
to expose her nose and mouth.

I suppose if I were a real superhero
instead of just a student with first-aid training
I'd care more about revealing her identity,
but what I'm really interested in
is clearing her airway.

The whistle in her lungs worries me.
"Asthma attack?" I guess.

"Yeah," she admits,
the first sign of cooperation I've gotten.
"I need to calm down."

"Me too," I say.
If I can help her relax,
maybe she'll pull out of it.
"It's been a rough day."

"You wanted to know ...
why I did this," she says.

That was Ham, not me,
but she doesn't need to know that,
so I just say, "Yes, I'd like to hear
whatever you feel like telling me."

"Professor wouldn't write me a letter ...
so I didn't qualify for grad school,"
she says. "So then I thought, you know,
fuck the world, I want to get off."

"That's understandable," I say,
not liking the sound of it at all.
Where the hell were her dorm supervisors
and the counselors while this was going on?
I drift my power over her, just a little,
trying to be subtle as I will her to get better.

"So I swallowed a bunch of my roommate's pills,
only it turns out, they weren't sedatives
but some kind of mad science experiment,"
she says, her breathing easier now.
"Instead of dying, I wound up
with superpowers and a whole new appreciation
of how the universe can be a jackass."

"You feel disappointed by all that," I say,
mirroring her feelings back at her for validation.

"I just wanted to share it around,
because misery does love company.
Turns out I suck at being a supervillain too,"
she says bitterly. Then she laughs,
and it turns into a wheeze,
which deepens into a wracking cough.

We're on the floor,
in a little-used part of the building,
and there's dust everywhere from the scuffle.
This can't be helping.

"Do you have an inhaler?" I ask.
"Yes," she says, smiling.
She reaches into her pocket
for the little tube.

-----

Keane

I jump forward, screaming,
my face full of pepper spray.
The mask blocks much of it
but enough still gets through.

It's more than even I can process
all at once, and it takes me a long minute
to channel the pain enough that I can think.

Farce is gone, of course,
vanished in the distraction.

The pain runs through me like a river,
soaking into the empty spaces
drained of power by everyone's earlier work.

Clement nudges at me then,
not trying to take over,
just telling me what to do
about the pepper spray --
how to get the oil off
with soap and water.

I drag myself to a bathroom
and follow his directions.
It takes time for the burning to fade,
even with my gift turning pain into power.

Eventually it eases up enough
that I can step back
for someone else to deal with
whatever comes next.

-----

Clarity

I slide forward
and scan for nearby minds,
sifting through the thoughts and feelings
that I find beyond myself.

There is none of the disorganized stress
that I would expect to find from Farce --
our adversary has well and truly escaped.

There are other minds, though,
closer and louder, students and teachers
and campus security roaming the halls
after all the disturbance.
They will want explanations.

I fix my face and hair as best I can,
but I still look horrible.
I bundle the blank white mask
into the silk coat, then pause
to stroke a hand over the fabric.

It's damask, beautiful stuff
made from different colors of silk
all woven together,
and I can't help but think
what a wonderful metaphor
it makes for us.

Damask, my headmates murmur,
and we seem to be in agreement on this
as a name for our system,
for our superhero self.

I slip out of the bathroom
and into the hallways,
moving back toward the stage
and the exit beyond.

There are people everywhere,
though, crowding the hallways
with bodies and gossip.

Classmates who think they know me
keep asking if I'm okay,
if I've been crying,
and I don't know what to tell them --

-----

Maze

"Allergies," I say,
with a theatrical sniff.
"Would you look at all this dust
kicked up by falling props?"
I wave a hand at the sunbeams
spilling golden and swirling
through the wide windows.


The other students nod
and agree that the dust is awful.

I can fake being Maisie.
I can do this as long as necessary.

But underneath my hands
is the texture of damask and
the hard outline of a hidden mask.

* * *

Notes:

Method acting is a way of improving characterization by doing some things that a character would do. Explore some general tips and exercises.

In theatre, a farce is a comic play that emphasizes physical humor and ridiculous situations. More colloquially, the term refers to a situation that should be serious but has turned into a mockery.

A jester costume or fool's motley, dates back to medieval times. It is often counterchanged in clashing colors. Imagine something like this in green and orange.

Ancient Greek theatre has bequeathed the tradition of tragic and comic masks inspired by the Muses. These are sometimes combined into a single tragicomic mask, like this. Farce's first mask is in that style; later on it gets more complex.  Behind the mask, Farce looks like this.

"Nary" is Terramagne slang for someone without superpowers, an ordinary person. They usually cannot compete effectively against a superpowered opponent.

Damask is a woven fabric with designs in contrasting colors. This garish coat is what Maze grabbed, along with a blank white mask. A later coat is more appealing.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease with many physical and psychological triggers which vary from one person to another. Stress, yelling, and dust can all cause an attack.    The exact symptoms also vary but commonly include wheezing, coughing, and/or chest tightness.  There are tips for coping with an asthma attack and for helping someone else get through one.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among college students, often brought on by depression and/or major life challenges. There are instructions for recognizing and responding to suicidal behavior.  Cultural opinions vary over whether or not someone has a right to choose their time of departure from this life, but in any case, signs or talk of suicide are never something to take lightly.

Pepper spray is a potent chemical weapon for deterring and disabling an attacker. Know the safety precautions for dealing with exposure to pepper spray. Yes, this choice of weapon is completely insane for an asthmatic person, but Farce is not thinking clearly.

[personal profile] rosieknight pointed out that an asthma inhaler and a can of pepper spray look different. They do, if you're looking right at them; and you can tell them apart if you've seen both before. But in someone's pants pocket or hand, what you have is a little cannister. It's the straight nozzle of the pepper spray or the bend for the mouthpiece of the inhaler that really distinguishes them; if you can't see that, it's easier to mistake one for the other. And if someone has been primed to expect one, they can be surprised by the other. This was a clever way for Farce to trick Clement into letting her reach for a weapon. He's a soft touch with different priorities, not experienced in combat, and it shows.

Mirroring is a technique to improve communication and build trust by validating emotions and repeating statements. It can also influence people.

Maisie's old friends are worried about recent changes in behavior, although Maze works hard to fake being Maisie. So people are going to come up and ask what's wrong when there's a ruckus like this. There are tips for helping an upset friend.

* * *

Farce -- Mallory Brasher is a college girl with fair skin, hazel eyes, and straight, shaggy brown hair that sticks out at the ends.
Costume: A motley jester outfit in green and orange with a white tragicomic mask.
Qualities: Expert Theatre Major, Good Pranks, Good Party Animal, Good Computer Wizard
Poor Asthma (in particular, overusing Theatrical Voice can trigger an attack)
Powers: Expert Behold the Banana Peel of Fate! (make inconvenient and ironic things happen), Good Theatrical Voice (Disabling Shout and Convincing Delivery)
Motivation: Reveal the farcical nature of life.
Origin: Secret experiment: After being denied entrance to graduate school, she tried to commit suicide with her roommate's pills; unbeknownst to her, those were part of an illicit lab project that left her with superpowers and a bitter appreciation of how the Universe can be a jackass.

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

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11 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
tigerbright From: tigerbright Date: October 6th, 2013 12:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow! Quite the entrance.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 6th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you liked this.

You mean Farce, or Damask coalescing?
tigerbright From: tigerbright Date: October 6th, 2013 12:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Well, it was a great entrance for Farce, and an interesting new look at Damask.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 6th, 2013 12:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Yay! Farce does have a flair for the dramatic. Damask is struggling to learn how to work as a team. Everyone has their own specialties but it's still hard to manage the switching gracefully.
natf From: natf Date: October 13th, 2013 09:06 am (UTC) (Link)
on purpose instead of on accident.

Is that an Americanism? We would say, in the UK, "on purpose instead of BY accident." I have always wondered whether seeing so many people on LJ saying "on accident" was merely a regional difference and have tried to reign in my grammar criticality.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 17th, 2013 05:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

>> on purpose instead of on accident.

Is that an Americanism? <<

I don't know. I have heard it before. I couldn't swear to that being only American sources, or a mix.

>> We would say, in the UK, "on purpose instead of BY accident." I have always wondered whether seeing so many people on LJ saying "on accident" was merely a regional difference and have tried to reign in my grammar criticality. <<

If used alone, "by accident" seems strongly preferred. But when together, I think "on accident" is an echo to match "on purpose."

I did find an analysis here.
natf From: natf Date: October 17th, 2013 07:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Ah okay. Yet another example of the language changing and making me think I am imagining it and/or going crazy. Thanks for the link.
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: October 31st, 2014 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

And here I've always thought that "on accident" was a Britishism, because I've never known anyone in real life who said it. Everybody I know says "by accident". Maybe it's Aussie?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 31st, 2014 02:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Who knows? Both are in use; I hear "by accident" far more often, but favor "on accident" for certain specific contexts.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: October 17th, 2013 05:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Also...

I'm cool with people questioning a word or phrase, as long as they're polite about it. Without a publishing house and editor, the audience functions as proofreader, plot checker, etc.
natf From: natf Date: October 17th, 2013 07:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Also...

Please do tell me if I do not seem polite. I do try…
11 comments or Leave a comment