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Poem: "Valor's Widow" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Valor's Widow"
This poem was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] alexseanchai. It also fills the "obedience" square in my 1-31-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. It has been sponsored by LiveJournal user Baaing_tree. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

WARNING: Sensitive readers are advised to have kleenex ready. The following poem contains terrorist threats, violence, main character death, and emotional whump. If these are touchy topics for you, please think carefully before deciding whether to read onward.


"Valor's Widow"


Everyone knows how it happened:

that Haxxor planted a bomb in San Jose
and Captain Valor arrived to stop him

that Haxxor took over the gizmotronic armor
giving Captain Valor his superpowers

that Captain Valor had a failsafe
nobody knew about until it was used

that Captain Valor's wife Deirdre
blew up his suit and Haxxor and saved San Jose.


Everyone knows why it happened:

that Haxxor always envied Captain Valor
for being the golden boy and getting the girl

that San Jose was the heart of Silicon Valley
and no firewall could stop a bomb

that Captain Valor and Deirdre had talked about this
because who'd expect an ordinary girl to save the day

that she loved him more than life or hope
to obey such a terrible, gallant command.


Deirdre is not one to look back
on what might have been.
She made her choice in that moment
and she will abide by it through all the everafters,
her heart a hollow shrine that she emptied out
for love of her husband's honor
and a city's worth of fragile, breathing lives.

Her slim white hand looks no different now
than it did before it pushed the button.
It is her eyes that have changed,
their irises glazing from hazel to glas,
sea-color lit with sorrow.

Valor's widow walks in black,
and no one stands in her way.
She has no superpowers of her own,
but the villains set by their plans
when she approaches
while the heroes bow their heads
and make a path for her.

They part before her like silent curtains
because they know she is no ordinary girl.
It is all very well to risk one's own life
in pursuit of some wicked or worthy goal,
but few among them could lay down instead
the life of someone they loved.

It is this that earns her their respect,
whispers that follow her like wave-song in seashells:

hera, hera, hera.

* * *

Notes:

Haxxor is a L33tspeak spelling of hacker, someone who takes over computer systems.

San Jose is the core of Silicon Valley, a major hub of technological innovation.

In Terramagne, "gizmotronic" refers to technology that functions on a superpowered level.

Deirdre is an old Irish name meaning "woman," which has come to symbolize grief due to the famous character Deidre of the Sorrows.

A firewall is a program meant to protect computer systems from hostile code. Many persons and places which are robustly protected in cyberspace are vulnerable on a physical level, and vice versa. This poem details a cascade in which Haxxor attacks a firewalled city on the physical plane, then a heavy combatant via cyberspace, only to fall prey to a physical attack himself.

Obedience is a component of some traditional marriage vows. Some people still practice it, which can draw criticism today. It is a fundamental right of every intimate partnership to decide the parameters of the relationship that they believe will work for them.

This poem demonstrates an example of the Trolley Problem, which often appears in discussions of ethics and morals. To wit: is it permissible to kill one innocent person to save others? This particularly raises professional concerns for heroes, whose work routinely entails issues of damage control and collateral damage. The question shifts somewhat in the context of leadership as sacrifice, given that both Captain Valor and Deirdre are willing to take the damage on themselves rather than let other people die.

The word glas appears in multiple Celtic languages with complex meanings. It spans the colors blue, green, and silver (which I have translated here as "sea-color") with a connotation of shifting light and hues. It also touches on nostalgia, longing, love, life, and death.

I customarily use the word "hera" for a female hero, switching from the masculine -o to the feminine -a ending. It also evokes the goddess Hera, whose name may be connected with hērōs, ἥρως, "hero" in etymology. For contrast, hero and hera are male and female protagonists. The diminutive forms heronet (also my coining) and heroine refer to the male and female love interests of the protagonists. ([personal profile] thnidu notes that the etymology of "heroine" does not relate to the -ine diminutive suffix, although the contemporary use of the word does carry a connotation of being secondary to the main hero.)

Special thanks to LiveJournal user Siege for compiling a list of relevant tropes: Hidden Depths, Beware the Nice Ones (alternately, Beware the Quiet Ones), Silk Hiding Steel and/or More Deadly Than the Male, Determinator, and I Did what I had to Do.

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Comments
siege From: siege Date: February 5th, 2014 04:15 am (UTC) (Link)

A few appropriate TVTropes articles

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 5th, 2014 05:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: A few appropriate TVTropes articles

Awesome. I have added these to the footnotes proper.
From: technoshaman Date: February 5th, 2014 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know someone with eyes like that ... thankfully, her beloved is not among her losses, and I hope to see that her eyes are blue next I see her.

Hmmm. Heroes and villains alike part for her .... but who will comfort her? That's a hard job... but satisfying.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 5th, 2014 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> I know someone with eyes like that ... thankfully, her beloved is not among her losses, and I hope to see that her eyes are blue next I see her. <<

I hope so too. I've seen the effect myself, and it's unsettling.

>> Hmmm. Heroes and villains alike part for her .... but who will comfort her? That's a hard job... but satisfying. <<

I'm not sure who she has to lean on, or if she wants anyone.

There is a superhera in this setting whose power is lifting depression. That's mainly about getting people unstuck, though, not about removing natural emotions. I don't adhere to the modern idea that more than two weeks of intense low is clinical depression even if you've just suffered a major loss. It takes about 8 years after losing a spouse for someone's life to return to former levels of contentment.
idhren24 From: idhren24 Date: February 21st, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, there are some lovely turns of phrase here: "sea-color lit with sorrow", "whispers that follow [..] like wave-song in seashells", etc. I also like the deft characterization lines ("not one to look back / on what might have been" & "She made her choice" / "she will abide by it") and the hints of what kind of relationship Deirdre & Captain Valor shared that they planned that contingency beforehand.

Thank you for sharing this.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: February 22nd, 2014 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

>> Oh, there are some lovely turns of phrase here: <<

That's good to hear.

>> and the hints of what kind of relationship Deirdre & Captain Valor shared that they planned that contingency beforehand. <<

Sooth. In a sense, she was always part of the superheroing, even with any powers of her own -- because she was helping him shoulder the weight.

>> Thank you for sharing this. <<

I'm glad you liked it.
helgatwb From: helgatwb Date: December 13th, 2014 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I can see Deirdre in my mind, it's so evocative. This one never ceases to make me cry, but it's one of my favorites.

Just the name is so... because it brings to mind, not just that she is the widow of a superhero named Valor, but all of the widows and orphans of men and women who have sacrificed.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 13th, 2014 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I can see Deirdre in my mind, it's so evocative. This one never ceases to make me cry, but it's one of my favorites. <<

*hankie* Thank you.

>> Just the name is so... because it brings to mind, not just that she is the widow of a superhero named Valor, but all of the widows and orphans of men and women who have sacrificed. <<

That's exactly what I was aiming for. I'm glad it works.
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