Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Trains Must Run on Time"

This is the linkback perk poem for the December 3, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  If you link to the fishbowl, make a comment and include the URL to reveal a verse of this poem.  If you link on different services, you can get multiple verses.

This poem came out of the August 2013 Creative Jam.  It was inspired by a picture prompt from ellenmillion.  It also fills the  "Epistolary fic: emails, letters, etc." square on my card for the Ladiesbingo fest. It belongs to The Steamsmith series.

All 19 verses have been posted.  Linkers include: rix_scaedu, Dreamwidth community Poetree, siliconshaman, DW user Perfectworry, janetmiles, lyonesse, wyld_dandelyon, mdlbear, technoshaman, catsittingstill, kestrels_nest

The Trains Must Run on Time

Isambard Kingdom Brunel sat in the lounge
of the Steamsmith Guild and grumbled
about the lack of decent mechanics
to be had for the Great Western Railway.

"The trains must run on time," he said,
thumping his fist on the table for emphasis.

"Perhaps," said Maryam Smith,
flicking the newspaper between her brown fingers,
"you had ought to pay less attention
to the religion and nationality of your applicants,
and more attention to their skills."

Maryam could not help thinking
of the note that her charlady Rori
had shown to her earlier in the week:

Dearest Rori,

I have finally found a decent flat in Taplow
and a landlady who does not mind
letting it out to an Irish Catholic.
Sadly I have not yet secured regular work
as most folk do not want to believe
that a girl can be a steamsmith,
let alone a good one. I hope
that fortune has been kinder to you
than to me in this regard.

Your loving cousin,

Rori of course was doing much better,
coming to clean Maryam's workshop
thrice a week and also tend to
the alchemical appliances in the house.

"You should invite your cousin to visit,"
Maryam suggested to Rori.
"We'll build something ambitious,
she can help clean up the inevitable mess,
and then I can write her a reference."

Dearest Aideen,

I am working as a charlady in London
for a fine steamsmith who lets me
assist with her projects sometimes.
She would like you to come for a weekend
and we will work together so that
you'll have a reference to show for it.

Your loving cousin,

P.S. Wear knickers that are long and sturdy.
One time I wound up with my skirts
about my waist whilst clinging to a roof.

Aideen arrived on a Friday evening
wearing a heavy work dress and high boots
and a leather apron festooned with tools.
Her auburn hair was more wavy than curly,
and her freckles were brown instead of gold,
but other than that she looked much like Rori.
She adored Maryam's model ornithopter
and did not hesitate to play with her cheetah.

The three of them spent a pleasant weekend
going over Maryam's designs for
the Amazing Carriage of Amber and Jade
to see if it could be made more practical
(it couldn't, or at least they couldn't see how)
and Isambard Kingdom Brunel's mad idea
for an atmospheric railway in hopes of solving
the materials problem on at least a small scale
(which they did, unexpectedly well).

They did not blow up the workshop,
although they did a bit of damage
when the cartridge escaped from its containment
to go crashing through one of the windows.

While Aideen and Rori were on their knees
picking crumbs of glass out of the flowerbed,
Aideen wondered if it might be possible
to make a magnet the would attract
yalos instead of iron.

Maryam smiled to see such a kindred spirit,
and redoubled her intention to help Aideen
get a regular job in her field.
It would be better for everyone if
the steamsmith trade were more open to women,
and for that matter Irish and Catholics
and whomever else happened to have the knack of it.

To the Stationmaster,

I have been well pleased by the service
of a young steamsmith by the name of Aideen,
who is a cousin of my own charlady.
Aideen's work on engines is quite reliable,
and you may find some of her other ideas
to be worthy of consideration also.
I believe that if you give her a try
in your repair shop, you will find
that your trains run on time.

Maryam Smith, Alchemist
Baron Carrington

The plan did not bear fruit immediately.
However, the next time a ghastly breakdown
resulted in stranding a duke's family
overnight in Taplow -- in a thunderous storm --
the stationmaster grudgingly gave Aideen a chance.

Maryam was dabbling with a bit of wick
to see if it might be improved somehow
when Rori squealed in delight
and waved the little note at her.

Dearest Rori,

I have now got a job working
at Maidenhead Bridge station.
There are always trains running through
and half of them break down somehow.
I love digging into the big engines
to figure out what has gone wrong.
I can't thank you all enough
for this opportunity!

Your loving cousin,

The news put a spring in Maryam's step.
She liked rooting for the underdog.
She could not fix all the foolishness
in world, but she could certainly
put a dent in it by helping other women
find a position commensurate with their gifts.
Tags: creative jam, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, weblit, writing
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