This poem came out of the April 2, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from DW user Primeideal and wyld_dandelyon. It also fills the #14 Gloss slot in the Vellum list for the Rainbowfic fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to The Steamsmith series. This will make more sense if you have first read "A Keen Eye for Alchemy."
Maryam spread her books across her desk,
references on the alchemical elements --
one in English, one in Arabic, one in Irish,
and a partial scroll in Chinese of which
she could read only the occasional gloss
written into the margins of the text.
She looked at the sets of elements.
Arabic listed equivalents for
aer, ge, hudor, pyra, and aether
but added sulphur, mercury, and salt
(which were not elements
but compounds made of multiple elements).
Irish mentioned only those
corresponding to the Three Realms --
Land to ge, Sea to hudor, Sky to aer.
That left out pyra and aether,
which figured less into Irish alchemy.
The Chinese Wuxing system listed
Earth to ge, Fire to pyra, Water to hudor,
but left out aer and aether
while adding Metal and Wood.
Chinese alchemy did much with metals and woods,
including some things that nobody else did.
Maryam stared at the lists and thought
about how the knowledge of alchemy
evolved slowly over time, growing
to new heights as people made discoveries.
Not that long ago she herself
had cracked a molecule of phos
into atoms of aer and pyra,
thus proving its components.
Her fingers trailed over the article,
dark against white paper,
in a prominent alchemy journal.
It was written by her friends Aalim and Taysir,
two Arabian alchemists studying takwin
the science of creating life in the laboratory.
Something about it tugged at her attention,
what they said about salt in their latest study,
the old Irish equation of water with Sea,
and the whole idea of making new life.
It was like trying to fix aether with a pin, though;
it simply would not come clear.
Maryam traced over the gloss for Metal,
turned back to the article for a moment,
then added a gloss for salt in the margin
of her Arabic reference book.
She couldn't quite pull it all together,
but she looked at the cheetah purring on her hearth --
who had been born out of a box instead of another cat --
and she felt certain that Aalim and Taysir
were up to something big.
* * *
gloss -- a note in the margin of a manuscript
aer -- the element of Air
ge -- the element of Earth
hudor -- the element of Water
pyra -- the element of Fire
aether -- the element of Quintessence
phos -- light, consisting of one atom of aer and one atom of pyra
takwin -- the quest for creating artificial life through alchemy