Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "In Black and White"

Here is today's freebie poem, posted as such because it draws inspiration from Star Trek and roleplaying, so I don't want to charge money for it.  marina_bonomi requested a poem about her character and a case where blindness would be an asset.  This quickly brought to mind one of Star Trek's many examples of race-based stupidity, the people of Cheron.  The poem reached epic length, but I was having fun and I was determined to do justice to the theme: Sometimes, what we think we see gets in the way of what is.


In Black and White


For years the Federation believes
that the people of Cheron
have obliterated themselves on the last battlefield.
Then word comes of a colony world
settled by political dissidents
who wished to find some way of living with each other
although neither side has the slightest idea
where to begin.

Yang Xiali, chief diplomatic officer on the USS Saturn,
is visiting her Vulcan home when the news arrives.
Starfleet suggests that she guide the delegates
through the delicate process of diplomacy
and teach them how not to step on each other's toes.
She points out, gently, that these are not tolerant people
and wonders how they will react
to a blind woman trying to lead them.
Starfleet replies that she is the best possible guide,
with her background in Taiwanese history
and her awareness of old Earth's own racial issues
straddling the many conflicts between East and West.
If humans can overcome so much inertia to greet the stars in peace,
then surely, it must be possible for anyone.

Yang Xiali accepts the mission
and travels to Vulcan's capitol
to meet the black-and-white delegates.
They are as edgy and fierce as eels,
electricity spitting from their skin in loud sparks.
When she shakes their sweaty hands,
their agitation nips at her fingers.
She sidesteps their bold questions of her capability
and asks them about the source of their dispute.

They tell her that it all has to do with colors:
this one is white on the right  side,
that one is white on the left  side.
She nods in acknowledgement
and promises to help them work on the problem.
She does not say aloud
the part where she finds it utterly ridiculous,
because to them it matters totally and terribly,
so it must influence her approach with them.

Yang Xiali soon learns
what the crew of the Enterprise
learned so long ago:
these people are capable of being rational
as individuals,
but as soon as they see each other,
they fall to fighting with atavistic fury,
as predictable as Siamese fish.

Nothing she tries does any good:
not educational workshops,
not active listening,
not mediation,
not even meditation taught by Vulcan masters.

In desperation, she turns to the absurd
and drags them into her world,
tying blindfolds on the protesting delegates.
Slowly they calm down,
like hooded hawks, alert yet at rest,
waiting for a word from her.

Yang Xiali murmurs encouragement
as she mixes them up,
putting people into different teams.
Now they do not know each other's voices
and she does not let them touch
to engage the polarity of their powers.
She places them across tables or
makes them message each other through computers.
The delegates are apprehensive and adrift
without the lifelong cues upon which
their prejudice and their polity depend.
They grope their way toward tolerance
and gradually they find that
when they cannot meet face-to-face,
it is easier for them to see eye-to-eye.

She is determined to teach them.
They are determined to learn,
however hampered by their history.
They are willing to try
even her wildest ideas,
the ludicrous lessons with puzzles
and games and field trips into the city.

The hot sun slips through Vulcan's sky,
leading the patient change of desert seasons.
The rain falls,
and their little party hears only thunder and water;
they do not heed the lightning.
The flowers bloom,
but neither delegates nor diplomat see the colors;
they only smell the perfume filling the air.
The refugees of a war-torn world
are learning to feel before they speak,
and beginning to appreciate that
when they cannot see each other,
they can see more clearly.

By the time their hovercar
stalls on a drive through the botanical park,
they are laughing with  each other
not at  each other
as they try to jumpstart the engine
still blindfolded.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, writing
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