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Poem: "Buttoned Up" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Buttoned Up"
This poem came out of the January 7, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] chanter_greenie and [personal profile] aldersprig. It also fills the "Swearing / cursing" square in my 11-26-13 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

Buttoned Up


I track the supply of troublesome substances
to the Franklin Lab Building.
My charts don't lie.

It's been one thing after another for weeks --
party drugs with supernatural side effects,
glamour makeup casting actual glamours,
a keg of beer that made everyone who drank it
somehow age to 21 for the night --
and I have had enough of this nonsense.

I use the modified keycard
to slip inside the door.


I glide through the quiet building,
unafraid behind my blank white mask,
my coat of green and gold silk
hiding my body from sight.

The security cameras flicker and hiss
as I wrap the light around myself,
erasing images even as they form.

Somewhere in the upper floors
lies the source of the trouble,
hidden in a maze of halls and doors.

At last I come to a lab
that reeks of chemicals,
sounds of running machinery,
and has an argument going inside.


I burst through the door to find
two students squabbling like cats on a fence.

The first stands over a lab bench
full of bubbling flasks and colorful fumes,
her messy blond hair pinned up in a bun.

The second fusses with a contraption
that spans the entire back wall of the room,
his face gone fuzzy with black stubble.

"Get out of here before the chemical reaction
turns you into a frog," the woman says.

"What's with the Rube Goldberg machine?"
I ask, warily eyeing the big red button.

"I'm Mr. Whiz, and I'm going to use it
to blow up this whole campus,"
the man declares, waving his arms.
"We have a bet about who can do
the most damage, and I'm about to win!"

"Mr. Whiz," I repeat, trying not to laugh.
"Seriously? You let people call you that?"

"It's a new nickname," he says defensively.
"I used to be the Whiz Kid, but I'm in college now.
I'm really not a kid anymore."

Of course, that's when Farce shows up
in her garish green-and-orange costume
and says, "Just push the button
and let's get the hell out of here."

"Are you insane?" I demand.
"No, don't answer that. I know you are.
We are not going to help him blow up the college --
especially since we're all standing in it!"

"Don't be silly," Farce says.
"His gizmos never work like they're meant to."

"They do too!" Mr. Whiz retorts.
"You're just saying that because you're on her side."

"I'm really, really not," Farce says,
and I can feel the queasy ripple of her talent
beginning to wind up for a big punch.
She sniffles a little and wipes her nose on her sleeve.

"Enough of this," I say to the two scientists.
"Shut down this mess right now."

"Oh, fuck this," Farce wheezes at me.
The fumes aren't doing her asthma any favors.
"If you won't do what needs to be done,
then I will!"

Before I can stop her,
she slams her hand on the button.

The crazy contraption begins to shake itself apart.
"It's, uh, it's not supposed to do that ..."
Mr. Whiz mutters as he backs away.

"I told you so," Farce says
from behind the twisted smirk of her mask.
Her power flexes in the murky air.

Beakers begin to shatter.
I fling up a hand to divert the shards,
but some of them get through,
nicking my fingers and palms.


I can feel blood trickling down my hands
as I haul everyone out of the room.
They're all too caught up in their own crap
but I know how to work through the pain.

Behind us, something goes fwoosh!
and I slam the door to keep the fire contained.

Mr. Whiz is moaning about
his malfunctioning machine,
and his rival is crying over the lost laptop
that I hadn't let her grab on the way out.

I yank a fire alarm, then ruthlessly herd everyone
down the stairs and out the doors onto the lawn.
"Move away from the building," I say.
"We don't know how bad this will get."

They whine at me as I drag a napkin
out of my coat pocket to dab
at the long scratches on my hands,

and you know what,
patching up is Clement's job:
I'm outta here.


I leap forward as Keane abruptly
abandons control of the body.
My skin is bleeding from a dozen tiny cuts
but it doesn't hurt much anymore.

I look at the napkin in my grasp
and think, "Really?"
but then again there's no first aid kit
so this will have to do.
I press it back between my hands.

A few small flames begin to lick
at the window of the lab above.
I can hear sirens in the distance.

The two lab loonies have already
disappeared into the night.
Since they weren't injured,
I don't really care.

Farce sounds moderately awful --
with her asthma, she must be
catching every cold on campus.
"Please tell me you have a real inhaler
somewhere on your person," I say.

Fortunately she does, although
she flips me off with one hand
while activating the inhaler with the other.
I still drape an arm around her for support,
and somewhat to my surprise, she lets me.

"I can't believe you pushed the button,"
I grumble as we trudge away from the building.
"You and those idiots could have gotten us killed."

"Yeah well, I just destroyed all of their research,
so it'll be a while before they can cause
much more trouble," Farce said.

"You honestly think they won't have backups?"
I say, because I've seen Clarity working
on our computer, and zir backups have backups.

"Judging from the complaints I've heard
about lost term papers, they never have before.
I have the worst roommate in the history of ever,"
Farce confides, leaning against me just a little.

"That's your roommate?" I ask.
I remember the story about the pills.

"Abby Brewer, but she likes to call herself Miss Mixit,"
Farce says with a nod. "She isn't really very good."
"Clearly not," I reply. After all,
look at what happened to Farce.

Suddenly there's a microphone in my face
and a chirpy voice is asking me what I've seen.

The next moment, my boots skid over ice
and I go down under a squishy reporter
for the campus newspaper.

Farce, of course, is nowhere in sight.


The student journalist scrambles off me,
putting her knee in my kidneys on the way.
I drag myself to my feet --

and there she is again,
pestering me for information
about the excitement at the lab.

I can see the firetrucks pulling up
and aiming streams of water at the flames.
The fire doesn't look too bad,
but it's going to be an awful mess to clean up.

"I-I, uh, I was just hoping that everyone
got out of the building safely," I stammer.

"So there were people in Franklin Lab
when the fire started!" the reporter says.
"Was it arson or an accident?"

It wasn't exactly either,
but I'm not about to tell her that.
"That seems like, um," I hedge,
"something you should be asking
the campus police or fire department."

"So why are you over here avoiding them
instead of back there giving a report?"
I swear, she's like a pit bull with this.
Me, I just want to get home.

I am rescued, again,
by none other than Savoir Faire.

He swoops in from a rooftop,
riding the line down a flagpole.
The red, white, and blue ostrich plumes
on his floppy black hat flutter in the winter wind
as he flourishes the hat with a bow.

"I beg your pardon, mademoiselle,
but my associate and I must be off,"
Savoir Faire says to the reporter.
"We have business to attend elsewhere."

"Surely a patriotic American like yourself
could spare a few words
to inform our fellow citizens," she says.

"Sacré bleu, can't you see I'm French?!"
snaps Savoir Faire.

Her eyes widen in shock.
"Are you connected with the terrorists
who just blew up the Franklin Lab?"

"Mon Dieu, spare me the attention
of those who purport to write the news,"
Savoir Faire says.

He grabs me around the waist,
does something ridiculous with the flag line,
and just like that we're swinging through the air.

"That woman is a complete nuisance,"
Savoir Faire says when we land.
"Though on the other hand, at least
y'a du monde au balcon."

"Okay, so what was that all about?"
I ask as I brush his hands off my hips.

"Oh, petite, do you not know the first rule?"
Savoir Faire says, shaking his head.
"Never speak to the press!"

He isn't actually as charming
as he seemed the first time we met,
when he arrived just a little too late
to save Maisie from the assault by Mindflare,
although he did provide an escort
to the Student Health Center afterwards.

The constant vulgarity is kind of annoying,
and while he's handsome enough,
he's also a bit too fresh.

Still, there's no need
for both of us to be rude.
"Thanks for your help," I say
before I walk away.

"Any time, beauté," he says
and then dances his way
up to a roof and into the night.

Well. At least the current crisis is ...
all buttoned up, as it were,
and not in need of further attention now.

I walk home, my boots
crunching over remnants of snow.
The house is quiet as I let myself in,
sneak into my lair, and shuck off the costume.

My bed is calling me,
and I can't wait to answer it.

Savoir Faire was right, it turns out,
because the very next day,
the campus paper has a front-page article
about the fire in Franklin Lab
and the "mysterious supers"
who showed up to save people from the fire --
or maybe start it in the first place.

Nothing good ever comes
from talking to the press,
however innocent it might seem at the time.

* * *


Many colleges have a drug problem, although students advocate for sensible policies.

Damask has developed a more deliberate costume, with a blank white mask and a splendid silk coat.

Farce wears a tragicomic mask.

A Rube Goldberg machine is a ridiculously complex device, although some people build them as a hobby.

Know how to deal with a fire. If it's in a lab full of chemicals, "run like hell" is a good rule of thumb.

Dissociation is prevailing characteristic of multiple personalities. You can see that the members of Damask are still trying to get control of when and how they switch front. It's not rare for someone to bail out because the situation has changed to something that's "not my problem."

Special thanks to [personal profile] rosieknight for helping with the development of Farce as a character, and discussing what challenges her asthma might pose. Asthma contributes to more illnesses for many reasons, so Farce is likely to catch every cold going around and spend the winter miserable.

Mademoiselle is French for "miss," addressing an unmarried woman.

Sacré bleu is French for "holy blue," a rude phrase. Although famously characteristic of French culture, it's not actually popular among most French people, but is more used elsewhere. It's an example of how Savoir Faire takes an over-the-top approach to his cultural expression.

Mon Dieu is French for "my God."

Y'a du monde au balcon.
There are people on the balcony = She has a large breast.
(More colloquially, I would render this as "She has great tits.")

Petite is French for "little lady," any small cute female.

Beauté is French for "pretty woman," like saying "hey, beautiful."

Never talk to the press is a good rule, especially for activists. Getting caught by a reporter is a rookie mistake common in the realm of superpowers.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
From: technoshaman Date: January 11th, 2014 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
run like hell... Never talk to the press

Unless you *really* know what you're doing in both cases... and even then sometimes that's the appropriate behavior for *both* situations. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 11th, 2014 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)


>> Unless you *really* know what you're doing in both cases... and even then sometimes that's the appropriate behavior for *both* situations. :) <<

That's true. It's interesting to look at character traits and skills.

Damask has members with quite good first aid training, easily a couple steps above average. But the general emergency training is only about one step up, for things like tornado/fire/earthquake. That's enough to use a fire extinguisher or pop a lid over a grease fire, but not confront a fire that could involve noxious substances.

Much the same dealing with the press, Maze has passable fake-it skills and they all love acting, but they have no training or experience in how to withstand interrogation or muckraking. That's stuff Damask will learn over time after more superhero work, and maybe networking with other supers.

Even when you're a collective, nobody is good at everything.
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: July 24th, 2014 06:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Y'a du monde au balcon

I would render this idiomatically into English as "She could put the whole world on that shelf!" But in the specific context of this conversation, your interpretation is probably closer.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 24th, 2014 06:19 am (UTC) (Link)


Fascinating. I didn't translate the phrase myself, but rather got it from an online glossary of French slang.

And yeah, that gal could balance one of those little souvenir globes on her bosom. I've seen someone balance three beer steins, which requires a bit more chest even than that.
4 comments or Leave a comment