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Poem: "Turning the Crank" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Turning the Crank"

This poem came from the September 3, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from technoshaman and earlier comments by siege.  It also fills the square "a cunning plan" in my card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  It has been sponsored by technoshaman.  This poem belongs to The Steamsmith series.

Turning the Crank

Maryam did not blow up the laboratory
but it was a near thing.

She started, sensibly enough,
with the phos  lanterns
that she already had in stock
from earlier experiments
and set about miniaturizing them.

It was not meant to be a final effort,
but if she could find the hard limits
of this version, that might suggest
where new inspiration was needed.

Working with ge  and phos
was risky but worthwhile,
and she got the lantern down
to quite a small size

before realizing that the hard limit
lay not in the lighting
but in the safety features
that kept it from exploding.

In the lounge of the Steamsmith Guild,
Maryam recounted her near-failures
and almost-successes to Old Henry
with the same enthusiasm
he had once described his angle pipe.

"The smaller the lantern gets,
the more volatile it gets," she mourned.
"By the time I got it down
near the size of my fist,
Rori was giving me looks of dismay
and fingering her dustpan.
I thought I had better abandon
that line of exploration
before physics ended it for me."

"A wise precaution,"
Old Henry agreed.

Off in a corner, George Cavendish
was doing much the same
with his friend William Percy:

"... peridot above and ruby below,
with quartz lenses on the sides
and onyx wood between,"
Cavendish said, waving his hands.
"Then inject a slow stream of aer
across the face of the ruby,
while a stream of pyra
comes in over the peridot.
I charged it with a hand-crank
spinning a rod of amber against wool,
leading to a gold tip within the lantern
where the reaction occurred."

"Then what happened?"
Percy asked, leaning forward.

"I got it just below the size of my fist.
Then I accidentally set fire to the lab,
and the footmen had to come running
to put out the flames before they spread,"
Cavendish said glumly.

Old Henry coughed a laugh,
hiding it behind a veil of pipe smoke.

The corners of Maryam's mouth curled up.
Cavendish was working with a principle
that she had used in her masterwork,
just reversing it to combine aer  and pyra
instead of cleaving them apart.
It was still chancy stuff.

"Father says I'm not to pursue
anything so dangerous in London,
and I can't  leave the city right now --
we've just returned from Easter holiday!"
Cavendish complained.

"Well that's no good,"
Maryam said to Old Henry.
"I don't want to win by default.
This is meant to be a competition."
He gave a grimace of agreement.

Evidently Cavendish was
paying as much attention to her
as she was to him, listening
out of the corner of his ear
without making it obvious.

"So I had this idea,"
Cavendish said to the wall,
"that perhaps the previous notion
of a proper lantern is a bit ...
restrictive ... one might say?
and a clever steamsmith
might get quite a lot farther
without faffing around
with a mechanism."

Maryam wondered at first
if this might be nothing more than
a trap to make her look like a fool.
Yet it was generally accepted
that gentlemen in a competition
might modify the terms
if they both agreed to the changes:
a cunning plan, given the obstacle at hand.

Maryam had replaced her workshop windows
quite  enough already, thank you,
and was glad to consider
a less volatile alternative
in the definition of "lantern"
as "light source" rather than "device."

There had been examples
of phos  sealed in globes of glass:
finicky and fragile things,
but beautiful to behold.

The obvious limit there would be
just how small a globe
a glassblower could make ...
but then again, it might be possible
to create one by some other method.
There were glass beads, after all ...

Old Henry chuckled at her.
"I can just about hear
the gears turning in your head,"
he said to Maryam.  "Go on, now,
put your hand out and
actually propose the change."

So Maryam walked precisely halfway
between her chair at the hearth
and Cavendish's corner.
Cavendish came to meet her,
Percy glaring at them both all the while.

Maryam made the proposal in crisp tones --
the smallest phos  light, not necessarily
with the apparatus of a lantern --

and perhaps it was her imagination,
but Maryam rather fancied
that this time Cavendish was 
less squeamish about shaking her hand.

* * *


phos -- light; a molecule consisting of one atom of aer  (Air) and one of pyra  (Fire).

ge -- the element of Earth.

aer -- the element of Air.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
siege From: siege Date: September 6th, 2013 04:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, technoshaman! I definitely like where this challenge is going, and I'm glad everyone gets to follow the story now.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 6th, 2013 04:53 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad you're enjoying the poem and the competition. It's great to see this posted now.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: September 8th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
GBG (great big grin)

Edited at 2013-09-08 07:45 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 9th, 2013 07:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you enjoyed this so much.
4 comments or Leave a comment