Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Grotesque Alterations"

This poem came out of the December 3, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from lb_lee.  It also fills the "Disability (Chronic)" square in my 11-26-13 card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  This poem has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the February 4, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl reaching the $200 goal.  It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family, which you can find via the Serial Poetry page.

Grotesque Alterations

The blizzard had taken a toll
on Victor and Igor's castle.
A heavy coating of ice and snow
had torn loose a stone angel
from the peak of the roof
and sent it careening down
into one of the grotesques.

The angel's wings had broken off
and come to rest at the base
of the grotesque -- all that was left,
the rest of the angel having
smashed itself to bits in the courtyard.

The grotesque was also missing
the broad bat wings it used to show,
now scattered across the pavers
along with the remains of the angel.

"It's sad," Victor said quietly,
as he ran his fingers
over the chipped stone.
"The storm did a lot of damage."

"It's ugly," Igor said,
glaring at the grotesque
with its curved back
marred by the stumps of wings.
"It has claws on its hands
and goat hooves on its feet."

"Well, I like him anyway,"
Victor said.  He had always
found beauty in what
others considered hideous.
"He has such a kind face.
I think he's a handsome fellow."

Igor chuckled.  "You would,"
he said.  "I prefer the angels."

"They're so beautiful that they're boring,"
Victor said, looking up at the line of them --
now missing one member -- along the peak.
"Besides, a fair face can hide an evil heart."

"Most people just believe that
the outside matches the inside,"
Igor said bitterly, hunching under
layers of heavy clothes
as he tried to stay warm.

"Most people are fools,"
Victor said.  He stroked a hand
down the warped curve of Igor's back,
just as he had done with the grotesque.

"We should shove this one off
and see about replacing it,
if we can afford to," Igor said.
He glared at the broken statue.

"I don't want to do away with him,"
Victor said.  "We can fix him."
He touched the stubs
where the bat wings had been.

"We're not stonemasons,"
Igor pointed out.  "I don't think
even a master carver could
do anything with what's left of its wings."

"I could make new ones
out of something else,"
Victor insisted.

Igor reached out a thoughtful toe
and tapped the angel wings.
"It's a pity about these," he said.
"They were so lovely."

Awkwardly he bent down
to pick up one of them.
Even under the layers of cloth,
the cold stiffened his back
so Igor could barely lift the stone
to hold it against the grotesque.

"They wouldn't even match,"
Victor said, looking from the white wing
to the darker gray grotesque.

"Neither do we, really,"
Igor said.  "If you want
to fix the grotesque,
then I want to keep
what I can of the angel."

Victor looked down
at the ruins in the courtyard
and the pieces still on the roof.
It was something they had in common,
this desire to fix what was broken,
to find a way even if it wasn't the usual.

"All right," Victor said,
"let's take some measurements
so we can put this project together."
He lifted the stone wing from Igor's hands
to take the strain off his back.

It took a week to assemble
a sturdy harness of metal that
would hold the angel wings in place --
and to wait for the next storm to subside.

Then Victor took the contraption onto the roof,
with Igor waddling along beside him,
kept warm by sachets of heated sand
under his thick winter coat.

Bulky though it was, the arrangement
kept Igor's back limber enough
that he could help Victor
hoist the stone wings into place.

Together they tightened all the fittings,
fresh metal gleaming brightly
against the weathered stone.
The white wings stretched high
above the hunched back of the grotesque,
framing the halo that Victor insisted on adding.

"There now, doesn't he look splendid?"
Victor said, stepping back to admire their work.
"I suppose he does," Igor agreed.
"He's lucky to have you there to patch him up."

"I couldn't have done it without you,"
Victor said.  "Come on now,
let's get you back inside
before you seize up in the cold."

Inside the castle was warmer, and
their son Adam drowsed on a thick rug
in front of the hearth,
penned in by heavy pillows.

Igor looked out through the window
at the repaired statue,
bits and pieces somehow looking right.
He snuggled against Victor,
and the taller man molded himself
against the thick curve of Igor's back,
not minding it at all.

Victor's body wasn't what it should be, either,
but to Igor it was just part of Victor;
the slight curves and the firm corset
didn't make Igor think him any less of a man.
They shared the same warmth,
cuddling together against the cold.

"I'm lucky to have you too,"
Igor whispered.

"We're lucky to have each other,"
Victor said, and it was true,
how they fit together in ways
that made their broken pieces feel whole.

* * *


Grotesques are garish architectural sculptures related to gargoyles, dating back to medieval times.  They are vulnerable to storm damage.

Gothic aesthetics span literature and architecture.  Much of the grotesque -- from statuary to storytelling -- derives from this movement.

Grotesques and gargoyles are rich in symbolism, illustrating sins and demons for illiterate viewers.  Cloven feet, bat wings, and chimerae are some examples of meaningful features.

Victor and Igor have different beliefs about the relationship between evil and ugliness, good and beauty.  Igor associates ugliness with evil.  Victor finds beauty in ugliness.  Compare this with the tropes Ugly Cute and The Ugly Duckling.  Notice that I often twist the Grotesque trope in more positive directions.  Igor associates beauty with goodness.  Victor has seen how beauty can be evil, and he also feels that true beauty comes from within

The ugliness of the Creature, contrasted with his inner innocence, comprises a major theme in the original Frankenstein  novel.  Therefore what we do with that in this series matters a lot in metasculpting the story we tell.  While many writers only portray attractive characters, many of mine are ordinary, plain, or downright ugly.  I think it's important to feature ugly characters too, and give them the same chances to succeed that attractive characters routinely enjoy.  I am not a fan of the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality, other than using it as a guide for setting up rows of things to shoot off of the fence.

People often discard broken things and damaged people.  This is a bad habit that Igor has picked up from how other people tend to treat him, although you can see it clashing with his frugal lower-class background.  He'd love to have the luxury of pitching things that break.  Others prefer to fix broken things and heal damaged people.  In fact, things can become more beautiful for having been broken and then repaired.  Despite his privileged background, Victor favors this approach.  Interestingly, damaged people can help each other, so that the broken pieces rejoin.  That's a key theme in this series, why Victor and Igor have such a bumpy ride in their relationship, and why they are good for each other anyhow.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, romance, science fiction, writing

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