Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Charlady's Tale"

This was the linkback perk poem for the July 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was originally hosted by dreamwriteremmy; thanks for taking care of that during the fishbowl.  There is 1 of 17 verses left which you can reveal by linking to the call for themes, the unsold poetry list, or a favorite poem from this session.  COMPLETED!  Signal boosters include: dreamwriteremmy, janetmiles, marina_bonomi, aldersprig, the_vulture, wyld_dandelyon, ankewehnerje_reviens

This poem came out of the April 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from aldersprig.  It belongs to the Steamsmith series, and you can find the other poems in that series via the Serial Poetry page.

Note: Does anyone know how to create a little box-frame border around a group of words in LiveJournal?  In the original file for this poem, Maryam's newspaper ad is framed like that, instead of just with dashed lines.  Special thanks to rowyn and dreamwriteremmy for coding help to create the border around Maryam's ad. 

The Charlady's Tale

When Maryam took up the Times
to look for servants, she frowned
over the obvious references to race and nationality,
age, religion, family status, and all manner of things
that had nothing whatsoever to do with the job.
The ad she placed read only:

 Charlady wanted to clean thrice weekly
 in a steamsmith's workshop and home. 
 Must not be timid nor allergic to cats.
 Any sort of smart, hard worker welcome.

After a run of drunken idiots and slovenly hags,
people with whom she had no language in common,
and girls too young to be let out of the house,
Maryam began to consider that perhaps
she ought to prevail on her mother's contacts
and ask after servants who came with references.

Then Rori appeared on the back doorstep,
milk-pale skin freckled with gold, scarlet curls bouncing,
her green dress and white apron neat as a packet of pins.
"If you don't mind I'm Irish and Catholic,"
she said to her shoes, "I'm here about the job."

"Quick, close the door before --"
Maryam began, but it was too late.
Farasat scrambled between their legs
and dashed into the yard.
"-- the cheetah gets out,"
Maryam finished lamely.

Rori stared at the tall, dark steamsmith,
her green eyes gone huge with surprise.
She stared at the half-grown cheetah
frolicking in the grass and chasing pigeons.

Then she grinned.  "Have you any fish?"
she asked.  "That's sure to fetch him in."
So they opened a tin of sardines,
and sure enough, Farasat galloped back
to demand his share of the fish.
Rori was hired on grounds of cleverness.

The charlady proved quite skilled
at keeping Maryam's workshop tidy
despite Farasat's efforts to the contrary.
She also tended the alchemical conveniences
around the house that the regular housemaid
would not touch for fear of breaking something.

Once they had grown accustomed to each other,
Maryam began to invite Rori to help in the workshop,
for there was no apprentice to ask and certainly
the rest of the help were wholly unsuited to the task.
Rori, an earthworker's daughter, pounced on the opportunity
to learn more about other types of alchemy.

This was how the argument over the jet-pack
came to pass, for it was designed as a man's gear,
for soldiers or explorers really, nevermind that nobody
had quite gotten such a thing to work  yet.

Poor Rori was swallowed whole by the voluminous harness
and could hardly stand up under the weight of the tanks.
She put her hands on the hips and declared,
"If you want a woman to help you test this fool thing,
you had better make it lighter and hang it on a corset!
And I don't imagine a soldier boy would thank you
for adding several stone of gear to his pack either."

Maryam considered that perhaps such a thing
might be sold to the rare women bodyguards of royalty,
or a few girls who aspired to be steamsmiths.
So she rigged up a corset with quite a lot of steel boning
under a sheath of sturdy brown cowhide,
with much smaller cannisters all around the hips.

When it inevitably failed, as all previous jet-packs had done,
Rori went whirling around in the air above Maryam's yard
and wound up dangling from the eaves and screaming for a ladder.
The other servants came running out of the house
and held the ladder while Maryam scrambled up
to shut off the jet-pack corset and assist Rori back to the ground.

Blushing as red as her hair, Rori untangled her skirts
from where they had wrapped around her waist.
She jerked her chin up and met Maryam's worried gaze.
"Well," Rori said grumpily, "that almost  worked."

"Almost," Maryam repeated, smothering a laugh.
She looked around at the yard full of trampled flowers,
glinting with broken glass where someone
had run the end of the ladder through a workshop window.

Rori followed her gaze.  "I'll come in an extra day tomorrow,"
she said, "to clean up this mess.  How long do you think
it will take you to fix the prototype of the flying corset?"

"I think," Maryam said,
"that I had better give you a raise."

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