Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Do Wrong to None"

This poem came out of the January 2013 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] chordatesrock. It has been sponsored by [Unknown LJ tag]. This poem belongs to the series An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space.

Note: The main character's self-image is complicated by several factors, including but not necessarily limited to: Some of the folks around him really admire what he can do, while others look down on him. He can perceive and feel more than he can articulate. And he speaks almost entirely in quotes.


"Do Wrong to None"


They repelled the attack
without a single casualty on either side.

The Carinan jumpship docked
with the surveillance base to pick up
the team of code crackers
and decommission the station.

Some responded eagerly to the news.
Sweep, their pickup man who found signals,
and Crowbar, their code breaker,
were thrilled at the idea of getting off early
from what was to them punishment duty.
Not everyone wanted to go, though.

Shakespeare wanted to stay,
here in this place he'd made his own,
doing his job of identifying key words or phrases
that probably meant something else,
and interpreting what they referred to in a military context.

Quell, their jammer,
likewise had no interest in
returning to active service or discharge
where people would expect him to talk to them.

The Carinan soldiers motioned
for Shakespeare to come with them.
He braced himself for a struggle, for flight,
and shook his head silently
because if he spoke then they would know
how different he was.

It's hard to get by in the army
when people know you're a freak,
even if you're stupendously good at what you do.

It's hard not to antagonize people
when you don't know
what your body language looks like.

The Carinan soldiers shifted their guns
and caught Shakespeare by the elbows,
grumbling at him, "Hurry up, don't make us late."

Shakespeare planted his feet on the familiar deck
and leaned backwards, but the soldiers were bigger
than his merely average body, and dragged him
toward their ship and a duty that was not his.

In the scuffle, the words broke free:
"No man has aught of what he leaves!" (1)

They stared at him, then,
at the Specialist insignia on his uniform,
and one of them muttered, "Freak,"
twisting his arm painfully behind him.

That made Shakespeare all the more desperate
to escape, because people who thought like that
could be dangerous and there was no telling
what they might decide to do.
So he fought.

Having already failed in
not antagonizing someone accidentally,
it's also hard to fight if you're just
trying to get away without hurting anyone.

These were things that Shakespeare
understood intuitively but could not articulate
in his own words, especially under stress.

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none," (2)
he panted as he eeled out of the clutching grasp
and ran shirtless down the corridor,
leaving behind part of his uniform and most of his dignity
in Carinan hands that had somehow become enemy hands.

Suddenly the lights went out,
dousing the station in flawless dark.
"I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night," (3)
Shakespeare murmured to himself.

The soldiers were not so sanguine;
they swore as they stumbled after him.

Shakespeare knew this game.
He squeezed himself into a maintenance hatch
and shut the access panel behind him.

Then came a sharp hiss and squeal,
followed by more swearing as the soldiers
yanked their comm links away from their ears.
Static crackled in the wall speakers.

"Heroic action," Shakespeare whispered,
"which makes a mighty noise in the world." (4)
Quell had worked his tricks and cut off
the soldiers from communicating with their ship.

Hiding, Shakespeare waited
until the nervous soldiers gave up and left,
all but deaf and blind in the buzzing darkness
of the base that was not their home.

Shakespeare knew this game,
and when the lights came back on,
he understood that they'd won.

But this time there was no Crowbar to call,
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," (5)
no Sweep to pass around contraband chocolate,
and it hurt to think of them on a Carinan jumpship
going farther and farther away.

His spotter, gone;
how would he find signals now?
His translator, gone;
how would anyone understand him now?

There had been four of them,
always four since the day he came,
but now half the team had left
and Shakespeare said mournfully,
"We two alone will sing like birds i' th' cage."

The lights blinked All Clear.
Shakespeare unfolded himself stiffly
from the maintenance hatch,
but his shoulders still hunched
and his arms wrapped around his aching chest.

There was only himself,
and Quell who did not like to talk,
in a station suddenly filled with echoes
where friendly voices once had been.

* * * 

Notes: 

1)  "no man has aught of what he leaves" -- William Shakespeare

2)  "Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none." -- William Shakespeare

3)  "I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night." -- Sarah Williams

4)  "Marry for Love, an Heroick Action, which makes a mighty noise in the World, partly because of its rarity, and partly in regard of its extravagancy." -- Mary Astell

5)  "Come out, come out, wherever you are!" -- The Wizard of Oz

 6)  "We two alone will sing like birds I' th' cage." -- Shakespeare
Tags: activism, community, cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, writing
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