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Poem: "A Spark of Love" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "A Spark of Love"

This poem came out of the January 5, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a very plotty prompt by fortunavirilis which was itself inspired by a science article; the storyline is also an exploration of how people can grow apart from each other, or toward each other, for reasons that may seem utterly inexplicable.  The poem was sponsored by laffingkat as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Merry happy calendar markings and assorted gratitudes!

(I'm pleased to have some extra sales out of the January fishbowl, because it was inspired by some victim of testosterone poisoning making a claim that women can't write hard science fiction.  So I took the claim out back and stabbed it with pencils, then my friends helped beat it to death with merry bundles of cash.)

A Spark of Love

When Lt. Jean Hackett came home from Iraq,
she hugged her husband with her remaining arm,
and they promised that nothing would change between them.

Gerald tried to be patient with the therapy
and the clumsy prosthetics
and his wife's edgy reluctance to go out

and Jean tried to be patient
with herself.

When the letter came
to announce that Jean had qualified for a program
testing advanced bionics,
both of them were overjoyed.
Immediately Jean left for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

There she endured hours of simulations
as she learned to map the phantom arm in her mind
to the intricate contraption strapped to her stump.
It was a struggle
just to lift her hand,
twist her wrist,
open and close her fingers.
In the therapy gym, she dropped countless balls.

You can take the soldier out of the Army,
but you can't take the Army out of the soldier.
The steely determination that saw her through boot camp
would see her through this as well.
Jean gritted her teeth
and aimed the blue ball once more at the blue cup.

As the days passed, she watched
other people -- many them also veterans -- struggle
against similar challenges.
Jean watched the blind man trip and stagger his way
through the knee-high maze of foam blocks.
Jean watched the little girl with two silvery hands
try to type an email to her mother.
Jean watched the handsome lieutenant place his new feet
carefully, carefully over the prints painted on the floor
then fall on his ass anyway.

When he sat down beside her,
Jean unthinkingly patted his metal leg with her metal hand
and said, "You're high speed.  You'll get the hang of it."

A spark leaped between them,
more felt than seen,
like heat lightning in her heart
and lower.

"What was that?"
Jean said.

The young man caught his breath and said,
"I don't know,
but please  do it again."

Jean looked at the gleaming metal of her left hand
and thought about the golden ring
that now resided on a chain around her neck.
She shouldn't ... she knew  she shouldn't ...
but that casual pat was the first truly natural motion
that she'd achieved in weeks of training.
Nor could she quite banish the idea that,
just for a moment, she had felt  something
in that metal hand
or her phantom arm
or lower.

She proffered her right hand.
"Jean Hackett, retired lieutenant."

His fingers were warm and normal in hers.
"Claude Accorso, retired lieutenant."

Jean let go of his hand
and touched metal to metal again,
her bionic fingertips tracing
the curve of his bionic thigh.
Elusive sensation flickered through her
and she knew by his matching gasp
that Claude felt it too.

Jean turned back to her forgotten task
and tossed the blue ball into the blue cup.
Red into red.
Yellow into yellow.
The blue cup fell over when she tried
to retrieve the ball, but she didn't care.
She just set up the exercise again.

"I think," said Claude,
"that I'll go for a walk."
He returned to the painted footprints,
metal legs a little more certain.

But Jean remembered
the hidden lightning in her heart,
and her wedding ring hung cold and heavy
between her breasts.

Days passed, and the bonds grew stronger.
Their attunement to their bionic limbs increased
along with their attachment to each other.
After that first handshake,
Jean never touched Claude skin-to-skin.
But she wanted to.

The doctors and the programmers noticed the changes
and demanded to know what they were doing differently.
Jean dropped her gaze and admitted
that touching two prosthetics seemed to improve both.

When Jean returned to her husband,
she felt grateful to get away
from the source of temptation.
It was good to be back.

That night, Jean dressed in sheer lace
and velvet gloves to her shoulders
and tall seamed stockings.
She led her husband into the bedroom
and smiled at his appreciative gaze.
Then she laid her hand on her husband's leg.
Nothing happened.

Disappointment clouded over
the memory of heat lighting in her heart.
Jean went through the motions anyway.

Weeks passed, during which
Jean clung to her marriage with dogged determination.
She began going out more,
which delighted her husband at first,
but she spent more and more time with her women friends
rather than with him.

"Honey," said Crystal,
tapping her long fingernails on the table,
"when are you going to tell me what's wrong?"

Crystal was Jean's favorite confidante ...
and had been even as Christopher
before the sex change.

So Jean confessed
to committing adultery via circuitry
and admitted
that she had ceased to think of her husband
as a sexual creature.

"It's like trying to be romantic with a coffee table,"
Jean said sadly.
"Something is missing.  He's not ... what I want anymore.

She did not know how it had happened,
only that it had.
They'd always had good chemistry between them,
but that no longer affected her.

Somehow love had transformed
from chemistry to electricity.

"I loved my husband,"
Jean said, "but now
I need someone who can make the sparks fly."

"You have to tell him,"
said Crystal.

"I can't," said Jean.
"It's not fair to Gerald
that I fell in love with Claude
because he has bionic legs!"

Crystal sighed.  "Honey," she said,
"it wasn't fair to my wife
that I needed to be a woman
and couldn't stay with her anymore.
But it would have been worse for both of us
to keep living a lie."

So Jean went home
and said what had to be said.
She removed her ring from its chain
and laid it gently on the dresser.
She packed her duffel,
her two hands working in comfortable harmony.
Then she walked out of her husband's life
and went to arrange the divorce.
It was for the best, they agreed,
but it still hurt.

When the letter came,
asking if Jean wanted to participate
in testing a new and improved prosthetic,
she hurried back to Illinois,
grateful to get away from her home town.

When Jean went to the therapy gym
with her balls and her cups,
there was Claude
testing his fresh legs on the painted floor.

Claude grinned at Jean,
bowed jauntily over his shiny feet,
and said, "May I have this dance?"

Her fingertips clicked against his thigh in greeting.
Thunder and lighting gave them the beat,
and they danced, slowly,
their cheeks wet with rain.

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Current Mood: happy happy

11 comments or Leave a comment
fayanora From: fayanora Date: December 18th, 2010 09:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. Interesting take on "sparks flew." :-D Like the Crystal/Christopher thing, too. :-)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Wow. Interesting take on "sparks flew."<<

I had fun playing around with this, and some of the extended metaphors like love = electricity.

>> Like the Crystal/Christopher thing, too.<<

I actually didn't plan that part in advance. I knew there would be a scene where the protagonist was talking about her situation with a friend. Once that started playing out, this is who popped up: someone else who already had personal experience dealing with painful, necessary changes. You have to be true to yourself, even if it hurts -- and sometimes that evolves over time in ways you might not expect or want.
msstacy13 From: msstacy13 Date: December 18th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
He probably meant to say "hard on" science fiction.
Women just can't write the sort of thing
that he holds in one hand, flipping pages with his thumb,
while sitting alone on a toilet amid the thundering applause
of one hand clapping.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)


A fine comeback, indeed!
msstacy13 From: msstacy13 Date: December 18th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: *laugh*

Thank you.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: December 18th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow! Yes.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I am glad you like this.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: December 18th, 2010 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very cool!

So I was just curious... why did this need to be a poem? Bc it really reads like prose. Is there some reason? I am not too smart about poetry and how it works or why.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 30th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)


This concept could probably go either way. I wrote it as a poem because the prompt came during a Poetry Fishbowl. Sometimes I use a poem to take "notes" for a story.

If you look closely, though, you'll see that this version really is poetry rather than prose. The line breaks are deliberate; many of them cue dramatic pauses. There are places where parallel phrases stack, or sounds repeat, in ways I wouldn't do in prose. Also it's a long poem, but much shorter than a short story would have been; the description is concise.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: December 19th, 2010 02:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh wow *cries* yes.

Sci-fi and yet so real.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 19th, 2010 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

That's so sweet. I'm glad it touched you.
11 comments or Leave a comment