Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Little Something Extra"

This poem came out of lengthy conversations with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, and with [personal profile] helgatwb  who lives in southern Louisiana, about how Easy City could have developed from the fractious mix of cultures there.  It also fills the "argument" square in the Birthday Bingo Fest public card.  It is posted here in thanks for LJ user Natasiakith sorting out the Polychrome Heroics poems into individual storylines, and this poem belongs to the same series.

WARNING: This poem features cultural tensions, rude language, arguments, natural disasters, minor character death, and some other challenging topics.  The overall tone is hopeful, though.  Sensitive readers should aim for viewing this while in a steady state of mind.

"A Little Something Extra"


Leal Doucet grew up in Hammond, Louisiana
between New Orleans and Slidell, where
she shared a rambling Creole house
with a very extended family.

Nobody minded that she was a bit odd,
tomboyish one day and girlish the next.
She was so warm and sweet that
everyone loved her, and she excelled
at keeping the peace amongst
her various brothers and sisters.

When her body began to blossom,
new abilities came with it -- first
a stronger sense of other people's feelings
and the power to influence them.

Then Leal began to notice that
some folks held a spark of energy
which let them work wonders of their own,
like François who could run faster than the wind
and Ernesto who could become invisible.

It took her a while to make friends with them,
to convince François to quit pranking people
and make Ernesto stop stealing, but
Leal was good at convincing folks
to do what she wanted.

They played together and learned that
Leal could strengthen someone else's talent,
or connect people to boost all their abilities,
or even blend talents to make a new one.

They took nicknames based on their powers:
François was Lapin, Ernesto was Spy Boy,
and Leal became Lagniappe because
she had a little something extra.

When Leal's father went to New Orleans
on business, he brought her along,
and she loved the big city with
all its colorful neighborhoods.

There Leal met another cluster
of people with superpowers
led by Emeline Saucier,
who called herself Stormtreader
because of her weather control,
graced by a bracelet she received
on her sixteenth birthday.

Stormtreader and her friends
did their best to keep the city safe
from foul weather and foul people.

"We should work together
so that we could do more,"
Lagniappe suggested, but
Stormtreader shook her head, saying,
"This city keeps me busy enough."

When a storm blew through Slidell,
Leal's mother went around with
a charity wagon to distribute supplies,
and Leal rode along with her to help.
Before long they were covered in mud,
but they did a lot of good as they went.

A dark young man and his lighter wife
stepped up to accept a crate of butin.
"I got no money, but I can do you a favor,"
said the man, and with a sweep of his hand
the mud fell away from their clothes.

"I'm Leal; folks call me Lagniappe," she said,
gently nudging his power with her own.
"We could hook up, do some good together."

"Jules LeRoux, Mudslinger," he said.
"Thanks, but I got more'n I can handle here."

Lagniappe still kept in touch,
though, with letters and visits.

She learned about Stormtreader's friends,
Rougarou the shapeshifter and Flambeaux
who could both start and stop fires.

Mudslinger introduced her to Letiche,
scaled and clawed and able to control the swamp;
and Feufollet, who could turn into a ball of light.

They told her, too, about the supervillains
who plagued their cities, most with minor powers
but a few strong enough to cause real trouble.
In New Orleans, a woman called Tafia
made everyone drunk so she could rob banks.
In Slidell, a man named Wanga hexed people
so bad things happened -- nobody knew why,
maybe he just had the devil in him.

Everyone agreed, though, that
the natural problems were worse
than the supervillain problems.
Gators crawled out of the bayous
and tried to eat people, fires broke out,
rivers spilled over their levees, and
storms boiled in from the Gulf
to ravage half of the state.

Lagniappe still believed that
they could accomplish more
by working together.
The lower part of Louisiana
was so built up now that
they really needed a SPOON base
like the ones in Eastbord and Westbord.

For her seventeenth birthday,
Lagniappe invited all the soups she knew
in addition to her ordinary friends and
all her kinfolks filling the verandahs.

She might as well have
tried mixing oil and water.
All the Cajuns clustered
beside Stormtreader,
while the Creoles made
a wall around Mudslinger.

"Why don't you go over to him?"
Lagniappe asked Stormtreader.

"Because he's an ignorant hick,"
Stormtreader said.  "Look at that vaut-rien
playing in the dirt instead of socializing!"

Mudslinger was, in fact, trying
to revive one of Moman's rosebushes
half-drowned by a recent storm,
with assistance from Letiche.

Not to be discouraged, Lagniappe
tried pulling the rope from the other end.
"Why won't you at least talk to her?"
she said to Mudslinger.

"I got nothing to say to that stuck-up catin,"
he said.  "Look at her holed up in that corner
with her cityfolk -- she ain't gone talk to me!"

At that moment, Stormtreader was attempting
to convince Lagniappe's cousin Eudolie
that college absolutely was the place
for a young super-intellect, never mind
that it was hard for a girl to get in.

Lagniappe let it drop for a while, and enjoyed
the afternoon playing tag and cards instead.
Then the crawfish gumbo was served, and
the red velvet cake brought out with its candles,
and the little handmade gifts delivered.

She finally caught Stormtreader and Mudslinger
quarreling over the punchbowl together,
which was as close as they'd come all day.
"You know, if you'd let me, I could
combine your powers and they'd both
be stronger that way," she said.

"Doubt it," Mudslinger said
at the exact same time
Stormtreader said, "Impossible."

"Just let me try," Lagniappe coaxed.
"If I'm wrong, I'll hush up about it."

The two looked at each other
and gave grudging nods.

As soon as Lagniappe touched
the edges of their power together,
both talents sat up and went Bonjou!
like it was the best thing that
ever happened to them.

Stormtreader and Mudslinger both
squalled like a pair of scalded cats
and sprang apart, pressing themselves
against the opposite sides of the room.

From there they shouted at each other
over whose power had grabbed whom,
even though Lagniappe had merged them.

Stormtreader's friend Flambeaux and
Mudslinger's wife Adelle joined the fray,
cussing each other in a jumble
of French and English.

Lagniappe threw up her hands
and went to organize a game of charades.

In August, Hurricane Betsy
slammed into Louisiana.
Stormtreader did what she could
to weaken the massive storm,
Mudslinger shored up the levees,
and Lagniappe concentrated on
keeping people as calm as possible.

It wasn't enough.

Storm surge rushed over barriers,
rain poured down from the howling sky,
and the Mississippi River rose three feet.

Levees failed on both sides of
the Industrial Canal and elsewhere,
flooding most of New Orleans as well as
many smaller cities and towns along the coast.

It was days later when the ragged teams
of superheroes made their way
from New Orleans and Slidell
to what was left of Hammond.

They arrived at nearly the same time,
and Lagniappe groaned, because
her head hurt and she was
too exhausted to referee
yet another argument.

No fight started, though.

Stormtreader's team had to
carry her in a chair, and she was
so wrung out she looked like a dishrag.

"You should be in bed," Lagniappe said.
She could feel the flutter and wheeze
of Stormtreader's exhausted power.

"If I don't come, they won't,"
Stormtreader whispered,
barely lifting a finger at her team.
"The Clockmaker brought self-powered pumps.
Aisling can sense people trapped by debris.
Rest of us can help too."

"Pumps we can use," Lagniappe said.
"Trapped people ... we're not as bad off
as the folks in Slidell, news said
that they lost a lot of houses."

"You go ask," Stormtreader said.
"If they agree, we'll pitch in."

So Lagniappe went over to
the folks from Slidell.

Mudslinger looked barely better
than Stormtreader, swaying
a little on his sturdy legs,
his talent wavering as well,
but that wasn't as worrisome as
the torrent of grief pouring off him.

"What happened to you?"
Lagniappe asked, trying to
steady him with a hand on his elbow.

"My wife, Adelle, she died in the flood,"
Mudslinger said.  "House went down a sinkhole
while I was holding the levees together."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Lagniappe said.
"Listen, do you need a searcher?
Stormtreader said Aisling can
sense people who are trapped."

Mudslinger nodded.  "We do.
Esprit was ours, but she wore out;
search-and-rescue is hard on telepaths,"
he said.  "They need a healer?
Curandera already did what she could
for our folks, and now she needs
to be somewhere with faces she don't know."

"I'm sure that would help," Lagniappe said,
then facilitated the trade, introducing people,
making plans, and finding necessary supplies.

Curandera shook her head over Stormtreader.
"She should be in bed, like our man Mudslinger,"
the Mexican woman said.  "I can ease the strain
on her body, but I can't help her talent."

"Don't look at me, I'm no healer,"
Lagniappe said.  Then she remembered
how Stormtreader and Mudslinger
had latched onto each other when
she matched their talents together.
"I've got another idea, though."

When Lagniappe proposed trying
to merge their powers again,
the two leaders eyed each other warily
but to her surprise they agreed.

Lagniappe made the connection
carefully, delicately, gently --

and the next thing she knew,
both powers had piled on top of hers,
all soft summer breeze and warm earth,
and for the first time in four days,
her head quit hurting.

"Bon, bon,"  said Spy Boy.
"Put them all to bed while
they're too relaxed to protest."

They woke up hours later
on the biggest guest bed
in Lagniappe's house, embarrassed
but feeling a great deal better.

Stormtreader's talent had stopped wheezing.
Mudslinger's talent had stopped wavering.
Lagniappe's talent had stopped throbbing.

"Best I go see whether your people
done killed each other yet," Lagniappe said
as she edged toward the foot of the bed.

Stormtreader reached for her shoulder
at the same time Mudslinger took her hand.
"Merci,"  they both said to Lagniappe. 

"We came to help you," Stormtreader said,
"but you helped us instead."

"We didn't think it was right, leaving you
to clean up Hammond by yourself, when
we've got more people," Mudslinger said.

"People can do more together,"
Lagniappe said, "if they're willing."

Stormtreader and Mudslinger
looked at each other over her.

"I'm willing to try if he is,"
Stormtreader said.

Mudslinger silently offered his hand.
Stormtreader reached out, hesitated ...
and Lagniappe brought them firmly together.

When they went downstairs,
they found an amazing sight:

Stormtreader's friend Strega,
who had owl powers, and
Mudslinger's friend Ivorybill,
who could also fly, were
taking turns going up and
coming back down with news.
Based on those observations,
Lapin then ran messages
wherever they were needed.

"Would you look at that,"
Lagniappe said softly, as she
watched the triad coordinate
repairs on the outbuildings and
groups of refugees going to and fro.
"They worked it out on their own."

"You set the example,"
Mudslinger said.

"We're just following,"
Stormtreader said.

"All right then," Lagniappe said.
"Let's see if we can meet in the middle."

* * *


Stormtreader (Emeline Saucier) -- She has pale skin, dark gray eyes, and wavy blonde hair cut just above her shoulders.  She is plump and curvy.  Her heritage is Cajun, and she grew up in a large house in the French Quarter.  She is an only child.  Her family provided several interpreters during WWII, and she speaks Cajun French as well as English.  Emeline is a superhera instrumental in establishing Easy City, originally based in New Orleans.  She was 18 when the floods came in 1965.
 Her followers include two other Cajuns, Rougarou (Shapeshifter) and Flambeaux (Fire Powers).  She also has the Irish Aisling (Psychic Powers), German the Clockmaker (Super-Gizmology), and Italian Strega (Owl Powers).
Origin: On her sixteenth birthday, Emeline inherited a family heirloom: a French bracelet with a medallion of black pearl, jet, and gold held by three ropes of white pearls.  It grants power over the weather.
Uniform: Fashionable women's clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Popular, Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) History of Louisiana, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Stormy Temper
Powers: Master (+6) Weather Control
Motivation: To protect the city of New Orleans.

Mudslinger (Jules LeRoux) -- He has short black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin.  His heritage is black Creole, and he grew up in a tiny bayou cottage.  He is the oldest of 9 children.  He speaks Louisiana Creole and English.  He was 19 during the floods of 1965.  His wife Adelle died in a flood while pregnant with their first child.  Mudslinger is a superhero instrumental in establishing Easy City, originally based in Slidell. 
 His followers include two other black Creoles, Feufollet (Light Powers, including Body of Light) and Letiche (Swamp Control; alligator skin, webbed digits, claws).  He also has the Choctaw Ivorybill (Flight), Métis Esprit (Telepath), and Mexican Curandera (Healer).
Origin: As a little boy, Jules nearly died from a fever.  His mother called a treateur, who buried him in mud.  When Jules emerged, he had Earth Powers, which he believes to be a gift from God.  He never charges money for his earthworking.
Uniform: Work clothes.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Handyman, Good (+2) Faithful, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Taking Charge
Poor (-2) Stubborn
Powers: Master (+6) Earth Powers
Motivation: To serve the land of Louisiana. 

Lagniappe (Leal Doucet) -- She has naturally tan skin, green eyes, and long straight hair of light brown.  She is very tall and slim with little definition of bust, waist, or hips.  Her heritage is free Creole of color, and she grew up in a rambling Creole house with an extended family.  She is the middle of 13 children.  She has a younger cousin, Eudolie, who is a Super-Intellect.  She speaks Louisiana Creole and English.  Leal is genderqueer and pansexual, but generally eschews labels.  She never lies, and hates when people lie to her.  She is a superhera with Empathy and Power Manipulation (Power Augmentation, Power Collaboration), instrumental in establishing Easy City, originally based in Hammond.  She was 17 when the floods came in 1965.
 Her followers are two other Creoles of color, the trickster Lapin/ François (Speed) and Spy Boy/Ernesto (Invisibility, Teleportation).
Origin: Her powers arrived with puberty.
Uniform: Variable.  Leal switches between masculine and feminine clothing.  It's often artsy and flambouyant.
Qualities: Good (+2) Artist, Good (+2) Big  Happy Family, Good (+2) Conciliator, Good (+2) Cook, Good (+2) Grace, Good (+2) Lovingkindness
Poor (-2) Dealing with Liars
Powers: Expert (+4) Power Manipulation, Good (+2) Empathy

Tafia (Hannelore Bauer) -- She has fair skin, blonde hair, and dark blue eyes.  She immigrated to America from Germany, and speaks both German and English fluently.  She is a supervillain who makes people drunk so she can rob banks and jewelry stores in New Orleans.
Origin: She came out of an Aryan breeding program and suspects that her superpower resulted from it.  The power manifested the first time she got drunk enough to pass out.
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Thief, Good (+2) Femme Fatale, Good (+2) Märchen
Poor (-2) Anxiety
Powers: Master (+6) Intoxication
Vulnerability: She is desperately afraid, all the time, that someone will find out the secret of her birth and use it against her.  She squirrels away money and other resources in hideouts so that she can disappear if necessary.
Motivation: Desire, acquire, admire.

Wanga (Alphonse Redhat) -- He has curly black hair, brown eyes, and dark copper skin.  His heritage is mixed Native American and a little African.  He is a supervillain who hexes people in Slidell.  Sometimes he does it for small or imagined slights, other times just for idle amusement.  His love of the finer things in life sometimes gets him into more trouble.
Origin: He dabbled in black magic and it stuck.
Uniform: Street clothes, usually a business suit.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Cunning, Good (+2) Businessman, Good (+2) Dancer, Good (+2) Observant
Poor (-2) Hedonistic
Powers: Master (+6) Hexcraft (Spinoff Stunt: Evil Eye)
Limitation: The black magic he practices is dependent upon occult supplies and rituals to get the full effect.  In particular, most spells to be cast upon another person require something of theirs, such as a hair, or else they work at a downshift.  Without the time and materials for a ritual, Wanga can only use the Evil Eye spinoff stunt at lower power.
Motivation: To get even.

Rougarou (Rachilde Layre) -- He is Cajun, a friend of Stormtreader, living in New Orleans.  He is skilled at finding people, even if they don't want to be found, in a variety of terrain.  He helps bond together the little cluster of superheroes who follow Stormtreader.
Origin: He used to hunt wolves as vermin and believes that he was cursed to become one of them as punishment.
Uniform: Street clothes, in human form.  Rags, in wolfman form.  Nothing, in wolf form.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Teamwork, Expert (+4) Wilderness Skills, Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Urban Skills
Poor (-2) Guilty Conscience
Powers: Good (+2) Shapeshifter
Limitation: He only has three forms, human, wolfman, and full wolf.  The wolfman form looks like a hairy human with a lupine head and clawed hands.  The wolf form is larger than a natural wolf.
Motivation: To make up for past mistakes.

Flambeaux (Landry Maupassant) -- He is Cajun, a friend of Stormtreader, living in New Orleans.  He is a crossdresser, pansexual, and nonmonogamous.  His mood changes often, blowing hot and cold, often for no clear reason.  He collects Mardi Gras throws.
Origin: As a boy, he was always fascinated by the torchbearers who walked before floats during Mardi Gras.  One of them, an old man, passed the torch to him and with that blessing came the superpowers.
Uniform: Sometimes he wears a Mardi Gras torchbearer costume, other times more practical firefighting gear.
Qualities: Master (+6) Firefighter, Good (+2) Friends in the Krewe, Good (+2) Sexy!
Poor (-2) Labile Mood
Powers: Master (+6) Fire Powers
Motivation: To keep New Orleans from burning down.

Aisling (Shauna Hughes) -- She has red hair.  She is Irish, a friend of Stormtreader, living in New Orleans.  She works as a seamstress, doing occasional jobs for Stormtreader when needed.  She has a husband and four children: an older girl, twin boys, and a baby girl.
Origin: She came into her powers at puberty.  Her family has always been known for having the "second sight."
Uniform: Street clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Extended Family, Good (+2) Memory, Good (+2) Seamstress, Good (+2) Singer
Poor (-2) Hot Temper
Powers: Expert (+4) Psychic Powers
Motivation: To keep her family, and by extension their city, safe from harm.

The Clockmaker (Wilfred Hofmann) -- He is a German immigrant, a friend of Stormtreader, living in New Orleans.  He speaks German and English.  His Super-Gizmology focuses on repair and restoration, rather than inventing new things.
Origin: His power grew in gradually.  He started out as an ordinary clockmaker, then developed Gizmology, and later Super-Gizmology.
Uniform: Street clothes, usually a business suit.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Patience, Good (+2) Contacts Among German Immigrants, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Smart
Powers: Master (+6) Super-Gizmology
Motivation: To make things work right.

* * *

Hammond, Slidell, and New Orleans are all places in Louisiana which became part of the Easy City metroplex.

Lagniappe is genderfluid, thus shifting presentation from time to time.  She uses feminine pronouns.

Cooperation and teamwork are vital life skills.  There are ways to encourage cooperation, even among difficult people.

Butin -- household goods, provisions
-- Bourbon Street Glossary

Some people dislike teamwork for a variety of reasons.  Superheroes may work alone or together, but they can usually accomplish more through collaboration.

Louisiana has many hazards.

vaut-rien (n.m.) [VO RY En] good-for-nothing.
-- Cajun French

Moman -- mother
-- Louisiana Creole

Roses dislike soggy soil, but there are ways to save them from drowning.

Catin -- prostitute
-- Cajun Cuss Words

Louisiana feast foods include crawfish gumbo and red velvet cake.  Like most recipes, red velvet cake is polygenetic, and there are actually several ways to make it red.  Historic recipes include beet puree, NATURAL (not Dutch) cocoa powder plus an acid such as buttermilk, red wine, and this droolworthy blend of natural cocoa powder-beet puree-raspberry juice.

Bonjou -- hello
-- Louisiana Creole French

Hurricane Betsy struck Louisiana in August of 1965 with devastating winds and flooding.  See a video of the storm.  There are tips for first responders and citizens regarding hurricane/flood cleanup.

Overstrain can happen when people use their superpowers too much.  It includes such symptoms as headaches and fainting.  A superpower is like any other ability; it requires energy to use and after a while that gets exhausting.  Higher power levels mean the person can last longer, but everyone has limits.  A majority of superheroes consider their limit to be when they go splat.

Bon -- good
-- Bourbon Street Glossary

Merci -- thanks
-- Cajun Glossary

Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, history, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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