Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Umbilical Lines"

This poem came out of the August 5, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired and sponsored by ng_moonmoth.  It also fills the "shopping together" square in my 7-30-14 card for the Genprompt Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the series An Army of One.


Umbilical Lines


Sargasso Base is becoming
something of a trading post because
of the jumble of scrapped ships
floating around Lagrange Point 5
and the growing colony of people
moving into Lagrange Point 4.

Astin is happy to dock for a while
and jaunt through the junkyard
with Weavercreep and Operetta
to sort out what things might prove useful
and which to melt down for their metal.

They come back with their satchels
so full they can't even clink,
crammed with small portable tech
and abandoned personal effects
now coveted in trade.

"We should go shopping,"
Weavercreep suggests then,
because he loves looking at things.

"I hate shopping," says Astin,
who always has, because
nothing ever fits right
or looks good or feels true.

"Well you need new clothes,
those are all for the wrong gender
you had on bad paperwork from the Arms,"
Operetta points out, and oh yes,
Astin loves  the Lacuna.

"I heard somebody got the MacroScan
up and running," Weavercreep says.
"It's meant for dealing with machine parts, but
people are using it for clothes and everything else too.
It's not like folks can just come here to try things on."

So they stroll through the Agora
looking in windows and pointing out signs
and nobody pushes Astin to buy any particular thing.

There's a kind of honey-colored shirt
that fits soft and loose, and later,
yoga pants in a smokey gray.

There's a long slim scarf of multicolored cloth
that can be a belt, a sash, a neckwrap, anything.

Astin thinks about the different truths
of identification, presentation, and perception --
about what it means  to prefer honey-color
instead of the clear canary yellow
those women are cooing over
or the rich chocolate attracting the men.

It's nice to go into a shop and find a bin
full of elastics and clips and laces
for changing the sizes of things
that only almost  fit.

Astin thinks of Venn diagrams
and topographic curves,
how ideas overlap or stack
or smear together at the edges.

The flexibility of a truth
seems strongly correlated with
the amount of personal effort required
to incorporate it into one's worldview.

There's a calculus of effort here,
with the equilibrium point lying where
the effort of further flexing the truth
is comparable to the effort
of further changing the worldview.

If the disconnect is too extreme,
one aspect or the other
will snap under the strain.

There are men's stores and women's stores
and Astin doesn't want to go in either.
Other places don't cater to one or the other,
offering uniforms of all kinds or things
people are making that aren't uniforms anymore,
that don't have meanings already coded into them.

Astin is like that, nothing uniform
about mind or body or being --
how Astin identifies is not the same
as this juxtaposition of presentation
still trying to clarify itself from past muddles,
and different yet again from what people perceive
when on the outside looking at the freetrader
who invented the Other box on the forms.

Self and others must be
protected from painful ruptures,
taught how to stretch safely, but
Astin isn't always sure how to do that
and not go dutchman to doom.

There's a store that sells underwear
and only has one changing room
for lack of space and supplies.

Astin tries on everything
and none of it fits,
but leaves the proprietor
a set of scavenged door latches
just for the joy of opening and closing
a door that said only 'Fitting'
instead of 'Men' or 'Women.'

Identities are like umbilical lines,
connecting each to the other,
truths that need to be
both flexible and resolute:

flexible, because if rigid,
they would break under strain;

resolute, because if infinitely elastic,
they would provide no anchor.

In space, umbilical lines are life.

The MacroScan is crammed in a corner
of what has become a warehouse
for bits of things that nobody wants yet,
only just repaired from a pile of junk that
some technician couldn't stop twiddling with.

Astin climbs in and lets the machine do its thing,
spitting out a list of measurements, and then --
delightfully -- a recommendation of patterns
for various garments that would fit.

The printout is whispery plastic,
still warm from the extruder,
numbers describing shape
without trying to enforce a name.

Stepping out, Astin spies a pile
of fabric bolts stacked carelessly
on the floor beside the scanner.

They are all ambiguous, maybe-colors:
mauve and taupe and teal,
dusky shadows and faded highlights.

Astin wants  them.

"Who owns these?
How much are they?"
One hand flutters
over the folds of fabric.

The man who minds the MacroScan
shrugs and says, "If you want them,
you can have them. Somebody
was trying to dye things, didn't work out,
and dumped the results in here."

Weavercreep and Operetta
have to help carry the big bolts
but they don't mind -- there is
a sort of yellow-grey that
Operetta wants a dress of
and Weavercreep asks after
the spindles inside the cloth.

They take the fabric and the patterns
to the place that says 'Threads' over the door.
The people who are learning how to sew
are happy to make things for them in exchange
for the spool of copper wirefloss that
Astin had found in a Carinan derelict.

There's a girl with short bobbed hair
who nevertheless calls herself Shuttlecock,
squealing over the idchip that Astin hands over
to match up the clothing order for later pickup.

"You're our first other-gendered customer!"
she says, wringing her little hands with glee
to keep from flapping them the way some people do.
"Can I keep your measurements? Can I take pictures?
Will you model for me? We only have men and women
models so far, and starships don't wear clothes."

Astin gives a slow blink, then remembers
that the AYES have mostly registered
their gender as Other now it's an option.

"You can take pictures of me
wearing the new clothes."
It seems only fair.

The clothes, when they come,
are soft subtle shapes
that hug Astin's body without
advertising the form underneath
or sending out unwanted sex signals.

Astin didn't ask for it, but the labels
all say O instead of M or F,
as reassuring as the smooth loop
of an umbilical line coiled beside a spacesuit,
stretchy yet secure, and the tag text
is going all blurry through the tears.

O is to 0 is to lacuna,
line defining space in which to exist.
There is a calculus of effort concealed
in the minute stitches of machine embroidery
that points to an inevitable conclusion of care.

The next day, they go out looking for
the much rarer silver brand of wirefloss
because Astin isn't so good with words
but wants to show thanks and knows
that all crafters appreciate fine materials.

* * *

Notes:

Genderqueer clothing is a favorite topic of mine.  Here's an interview about it.  I have some tips on how to choose clothes for gender expression.

Lagrange points are stable areas in a gravitational system where it's easy to "park."

Body scanners are now available in some megamalls.  If your body is unusually shaped, or you hate trying things on, you may find this helpful.

Agora is an old Greek term for "gathering place" or "market square."

There are some interesting gender differences in how people interact with colors.  One thing I've noticed is that genderqueer folks often like "maybe colors" that are blends, so shades like mauve or constructions like shot silk.

The same basic principles apply to stretching safely whether for muscles or boundaries.  Go as far as you can comfortably, push one step farther, then ease back to your comfort zone.  Repeat over time, and you can usually increase how far you're able to stretch.

The Flying Dutchman is an old legend about a ghost ship, thus a metaphor for things that are lost or out of control.  "Dutchman" is an alert code for someone who has slipped off a safety line.

"Quiet Hands" is a therapy method to discourage people from moving in ways that other people disapprove of.  Look at this model and you can see that someone who has 4 spoons worth of energy for social interaction is never going to learn anything if they have to spend all 4 of those to be pleasing and have none left for actually thinking about the material.  Also the quiet hands method can hurt people.  When they're doing it to themselves, it's not self-control, it is self-bullying.  So that's what you're seeing in the poem above, one woman who's been trained out of being able to express herself naturally.  Loud hands are okay, as long as they're not causing a practical problem by hitting people or breaking things.  You can find fidget toys for children or adults to facilitate safe play.  The Lacuna is culturally open about stuff like this, but includes people from very different backgrounds, so you'll see both quiet and loud hands.

Love languages are different ways to show affection or appreciation.  Some people, like Astin, do this with gifts.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, weblit, writing
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