Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "A Man Is Not Complete"

This poem is spillover from the February 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and LJ user Kelkyag. It also fills the "parenthood" square in my 12-30-15 card for the Rites of Passage Fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to The Steamsmith series.


"A Man Is Not Complete"


Maryam Smith stepped out for a breath of air
and nearly tripped over the basket on the doorstep.

Looking into the basket, she found a baby,
who to her inexperienced eye seemed
somewhere between one and two years of age.

Maryam picked up the basket and
went back into the house.

"We have acquired a small problem,"
she announced, setting the basket before Rori.
"I don't suppose you have any experience
taking care of little ones?"

"Oh la, yes of course," the charlady said,
scooping the baby out of the basket, revealing
a froth of red-gold curls and a knitted jumper.
"I've plenty of sibs and cousins younger than me."

Ned put up his hands, backed away, and
declared that Maryam's boots wanted polishing.

Meanwhile Maryam patted down the basket,
which held a blanket but no note. "I can't find
any clues to the family in here," she said.
"We'll have to search elsewhere."

"Well then, we'll be needing baby things,"
Rori said. "I'll pop off down the street
and borrow some from the O'Haras."

"I've a project in the workshop that might
help identify relatives, if we could figure out
who the possibilities are," Maryam said.

Rori put her hands on her hips and said,
"No, m'sir, you cannot go haring off
to putter in the lab with a baby in the house!
You have got to keep a closer eye on her."

"At least we're equipped for that," Maryam said,
pointed at the tommyrocker in the corner.
She deposited the baby in its lap.
"Here you go, Mrs. Love."

The tommyrocker stirred.
Although the pleasantly carved face
could not show an expression,
Maryam got the distinct impression
that it was happy to hold a baby again.

"Thrrrmm?" said Farasat, poking his nose
at the small bundle in the lap of the tommyrocker
who, on occasion, had been known to pet him.

Mrs. Love raised a hand and gently shooed him away.

"Hrrrmm," said Farasat. He curled up
around the tommyrocker's feet
and began to purr.

"All right, that solves that problem," Rori agreed.

So Maryam went to her workshop while
Rori went out to get things for the baby.

On the workbench was a device that
had been intended for monitoring energy
as an alchemist worked, only it hadn't
ever given the readings it was meant to.
Maryam had discovered that the garnet
would light up when she came near her father,
and she'd tried it with more distant relatives
only to find the effects erratic.

Rori came back with a stack of nappies,
a bottle of milk, a bag of other oddments,
and the disappointing news that nobody
on their street seemed to be missing a baby.

"She's sure to come up sooner or later,"
Rori said. "With that red hair, she's likely
Irish or part Irish, and there aren't so many
of us that a babe could disappear and
not be looked for. Chances are, she's either
from right around here -- the folk serving
the lords and such, who don't live in a manor --
or else from the meanest streets, and
I think she's too plump for that."

"As you've already spread the word belowstairs,
I'd best take my turn," Maryam said. "Dress her
to go out, and I'll pay a visit to the Steamsmith Guild.
Someone there may know something of use."

Rori changed the baby's nappy and
dressed her in a clean outfit.

Maryam packed up the garnet device
to see what the other steamsmiths
at the guild might make of it.

She set out with the baby a warm weight
in her arms, unfamiliar but agreeable
all the same. Maryam wondered then
if she'd ever have a baby of her own;
she was certainly in want of an heir, but
the circumstances made it a challenge.

It was all very well to take the social role
of a man, but there were certain duties
she was not equipped to perform, even if
a wife might be found to overlook her quirks --
and while a husband might prove more
compatible with her body in terms of
begetting an heir, the legalities of that
would be all the more fraught.

Maryam set the thoughts aside.
For now she had enough to worry about,
just finding this little one's family again.
A lord was meant to look after the people.

Their arrival at the Steamsmith Guild
caused quite a stir, it not being a place
where anyone typically brought a baby.

Maryam explained the situation, and
asked if anyone's staff were missing a child
(they weren't) and spread out her device
on the nearest table for everyone to explore.

Percy leaned over the table and began
twiddling with the garnet and gears,
determined as usual to show her up.

Old Henry dandled the baby on his knee
and began telling a story about his kittens.

Percy convinced Cavendish to part with
a small case of assorted gems,
which he tried in sequence.

Maryam let him have his way;
once in a while the fellow actually
had an idea worth pursuing.

Percy hummed and hedged and
stuck his tongue out the corner of his mouth.
As he fitted a pair of tiny diamonds alongside
the wire curls holding the garnet, suddenly
the whole array lit up like a candelabra.

Certainly Maryam had not expected that.

Then again, given the way some young noblemen
tended to behave with commoner girls,
perhaps she ought to have done.

"Congratulations," she drawled.

"Oh, it was an obvious solution," Percy said
with a flick of his hand, although
clearly he enjoyed the flattery.

"I meant," said Maryam as she handed him
the baby, "that this belongs to you."

"Well, I -- but -- oh bollocks," said Percy.
He looked down at the baby with
a completely stunned expression.

"A man is not complete until
he has seen the baby he has made,"
Old Henry observed.

"My father is going to kill me," Percy said.

Maryam could well imagine that, Duke Hugh Percy
having helped to vote down the New Poor Law that
would have excused fathers from supporting their bastards.

While Maryam enjoyed Percy's consternation, it didn't
really solve her problem, because he hadn't known
about his daughter until the abrupt revelation.

"I don't suppose you've thought this through,"
Old Henry said to Maryam. "I imagine
the barristers will be all over you after this,
wanting copies of a device that can prove parentage."

"I hadn't thought of that, no," Maryam admitted.

Old Henry clucked his tongue at her.
"You really need to start," he advised.
"A steamsmith who doesn't think ahead
is liable to invent things that cause trouble."

Maryam couldn't argue with that; she had
read accounts of some German mishaps
that started exactly that way. She wasn't
faffing about in her father's garage anymore;
she had to take responsibility for her works.

In the end it was decided that the baby
should go back home with Maryam for now,
and Percy would have to speak with his father
while the search for the baby's mother continued.

Percy's account of possible mothers had been
lengthy enough to help very little.

Maryam spent the next three days watching
her tiny household staff take care of the baby.
Ned was still afraid to touch her, and Rori couldn't
be there all the time, but Jane happily took up the slack.

On the fourth morning, William Percy
showed up with his father and an Irish laundress
who introduced herself as Muirne and
apparently lived just a few streets away.

"Ena!" the girl exclaimed when she saw the baby.

"Mamamama," the baby babbled,
holding out her chubby hands.

Maryam brought out her device again
just to make certain, and it lit up
as brightly for Muirne as it had for William.

"Oh, thank goodness," Maryam said.
"How did you get separated?
I found her in a basket at my door."

Muirne rolled her eyes. "Me da
stole her away, thinking that would
convince me to marry some boy he found.
Well it never will! I'll marry in me own time,
and until then I don't mean to give up me bit o' fun."

"Why didn't you say anything?" William asked.

"How was I to know she was yours, then,
until the steamsmith's pretty gem showed it?"
Muirne said with a laugh.

Rori was downright scandalized,
muttering on and on about how
good Catholic girls didn't do such things,
until Maryam sent her away to mind the workshop.

Duke Hugh Percy declared that Muirne
was to receive a modest sum in consideration
for bearing his first grandchild (that anyone knew of),
with another bit set aside for Ena herself,
all to be taken from William's portion.

After they left, Maryam felt relieved
to have her peace and quiet back,
although secretly she missed
Ena just a little.

Maryam thought about Ned's skittishness,
Rori's and Jane's enthusiasm, Old Henry's
very practical advice, William's and Muirne's
pursuit of their own pleasure without
much regard for what might come of it.

There was more to maturity than
could be seen at a glance.

With that, she sat down at her writing desk
to pen a letter to her father and ask for
his thoughts before making any more of
her garnet-and-diamond family detection devices,
lest they put the cat amongst the pigeons
in the hands of the barristers.

* * *

Notes:

"A man is not complete until he has seen the baby he has made."
-- Sammy Davis, Jr.

Leaving a baby on the doorstep is a popular trope.

Cheetahs can purr.

Garnet is associated with family and identity.

Proof of parentage can open an enormous can of worms when introduced into a society.

Old Henry expresses the idea of fatherhood as a defining trait of manhood, but not everyone agrees.

Young noblemen have fathered a lot of bastards. In historic-England, the New Poor Law absolved fathers from any responsibility for illegitimate offspring, but in nether-England it failed to pass.

Genderqueer parents face extra challenges with pregnancy, nomenclature, and more.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, weblit, writing
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