Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Times of Challenge, Moments of Comfort"

This poem is spillover from the September 6, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mama_kestrel and Anonymous on Dreamwidth. It also fills the "challenges" square in my 8-1-16 cards for Group Dynamics and Character-building Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by daisiesrockalot. It belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem is fluff unto itself, but deals with the aftermath of child molestation in "A Shadow the Length of a Lifetime." Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Times of Challenge, Moments of Comfort"


Aidan was sitting in his back yard with
Heidi, talking about possible changes
to the landscaping, with Saraphina
in between them playing with blocks
made from sanded tree branches.

A surge of energy made them look up,
and suddenly a paved space between
the keyhole beds of the garden held
a enormous black horse, a little girl,
a plain thin woman, and a man
built not unlike a fireplug.

"Hold her for a minute," Aidan said,
handing Saraphina to Heidi. He regretted
not being able to soothe her startled eep!
but Alicia's flattened mood -- and the waves
of worry pouring off of her Guardians --
warned him of more urgent concerns.

"What happened?" he asked Nanette,
hurrying to meet the small party.

"Alicia had a very rough day
yesterday," Nanette said. "There
was a man in the park who couldn't
keep his hands to himself."

The words came with a silent rush
of images as Nanette offered him
a more discreet and thorough
accounting of the events.

"Is that part of the problem settled?"
he asked quietly, wondering whether
he'd need to rouse further support.

"Well enough," Nanette said. "He's
in no shape to bother anyone else."

Aidan had seen what Alicia could
do when she didn't feel like being
merciful enough to kill an opponent.

Problem solved, at least enough that
Aidan didn't need to worry about it.

"All right," he said. "Come over
and meet our social worker. This
is Heidi Langenberg, she's been
indispensable with Saraphina. Heidi,
these are my friends Alicia, Nanette,
and Lorry. This big fellow --" He patted
the horse's shoulder. "-- is Judd."

"Pleased to meet you," Heidi said.
"If this is a private visit, I can leave --"

"You've already seen us,"
Nanette said evenly, who hadn't
called ahead because the situation
was urgent and they rarely needed to.

Aidan could feel the bright spark
of recognition the moment Heidi
understood who his guests were
and what their presence meant.

"Hard day, huh?" said Heidi.
"How can I help?"

"Winds bless you, Heidi,
I wish I had five more like you,"
Aidan said fervently.

Nanette's power darted past him,
nipping at the edges of Heidi's mind
to determine whether she was safe,
and startling Heidi's superpower
into nervous fireworks.

"Please don't pick at that,
it's fresh," Aidan murmured
as he scooped Nanette's energy
back towards its owner while
simultaneously trying to soothe
Heidi and Saraphina and figure out
how hurt Alicia actually was.

"I swear, Aidan, you're like
a border collie trying to herd
every beast in the barnyard,"
Nanette scolded gently. "Settle.
We're most of us grownups here;
we can work out our differences."

"I really did mean my offers,"
Heidi said. "I can stay and help,
or go, whichever you prefer. I'm
trained in trauma-informed care,
if that makes a difference."

"How good is she, truly?"
Nanette asked, looking at Aidan.

"I would be lost without her,"
he said honestly. "Heidi knows
a great deal about how children grow
and what makes a family healthy or not.
She has done wonders for navigating
Family Services and other resources."

Nanette gave a gusty sigh. "We have
asked around a bit, but frankly, the 'help'
available has been less than helpful. It
is a nuisance when I offer my gifts, and
someone refuses, and then gets upset
when I don't read his mind or know
whatever he's trying to get at."

"I don't like it when people talk down
to me or over me or say mean things
about my family," Alicia grumbled.

"Then we'll make sure not to do that,"
Heidi said firmly. "What makes you
feel better when you're sad?"

"Being with my people," Alicia said,
leaning against Aidan, who smoothed
a hand down the ripples of her hair.
"Being outside, if it's a pretty place."

"Oooh, ticky box!" Heidi said.
"We're two up already."

Alicia didn't actually giggle,
but the bridge of her nose
and the corners of her eyes
crinkled in an almost-smile.

"Do you want some private time
with Aidan? He's good at cheering
people up; he helped me when I
felt sad," Heidi said. "Or we could
do fun or relaxing things."

"Something fun," Alicia said.

Heidi looked around the garden
with its paved paths surrounding beds
full of fragrant herbs and colorful blooms.

"Let's make flower crowns," she said.
"My friends and I used to braid dandelions
and crown each other when I was little."

It was almost like flipping a switch;
Alicia went from glum to animated.

"Oh, not dandelions, they're sticky,"
Alicia said. She skipped to the garden
where Aidan had planted everlastings
for cut flowers and crafts. "Statice and
strawflowers work well. Here's yarrow.
Don't pick the ice flowers, though,
they melt too quickly for crowns."

Tiny deft hands danced among
the flowers, plucking out the ones
with the longest and strongest stems.
She picked yellow tickseed and tidy tips,
California poppies and daisy fleabane.

Heidi joined her and began gathering
farewell-to-spring and deep pink yarrow.
Alicia added some blue-eyed grass and
Spanish lavender to Heidi's bouquet.

Aidan took Saraphina to the side yard
where she could pick as much clover
as she wanted without hurting anything.
They came back with arms full of
Indian clover and bull clover.

Judd was sniffing the white sage.

"Want me to break out some hay?"
Aidan asked. "I have prime alfalfa
and lespedeza, I think you'll like it."

Judd's ears pricked. "Huh,"
he said eagerly, lipping Aidan's shirt.

So Aidan went back to the guest house
that he'd built for Judd, turned on the fixtures,
and stuffed a flake of each hay flavor into
the cotton mesh bag. Finally he hung
the hay net from one of the tall posts that
held hanging plants and bird feeders.

Judd dug into the hay with happy sounds.

Lorry and Nanette had settled into
a pair of rustic wooden chairs
connected by a small table.

Alicia and Heidi had claimed a bench
built from branches with the bark left on.
Flowers made a blanket over their laps,
predominantly yellow and orange for
Alicia, pink and purple for Heidi.

"Here, we brought you some clover,
that should help hold things together,"
Aidan said as he offered them the bundle.

"Yay," Alicia said softly.

She still wasn't back to normal,
wouldn't be for a while, but at least
that awful crimped feeling was fading.

Heidi had managed to make a wobbly
but serviceable garland of flowers.

Alicia was sculpting an actual crown,
complete with a headband surmounted
by complicated peaks and arches.

"Vicki used to weave grass to put
inside hers," Alicia said. "She wanted
it to look like the velvet in the real thing,
but it was always green instead of red.
I never really got the hang of that, but I
did learn how to make the arch thingies."

"Judd play too?" the horse asked,
ambling over to nose at the pile
of flowers spilling off the bench.

"Oh, then we'll be at it for hours,"
Alicia said, rolling her eyes,
but she was smiling.

Judd gave Aidan a solemn wink
on the side she couldn't see.

"I don't have anything better
to do today," Heidi said. "It's
my day off. We were just going
to sit out here and talk gardening."

"I'll get the braiding kit," Aidan said.
He went back to Judd's guest house
and returned with a toolbelt wrapped
around his waist and a bucket of
extra equipment in one hand.

"Do you ladies want to do
the mane or the tail?" he asked.

"Mane, it's wide enough that we can
work at the same time if I'm sitting on
Judd's back," Alicia said, scrambling up.

"That leaves me the tail," Aidan said.
"Saraphina, you get to sort the flowers.
Can you put each color in a pile of its own
so we can find the kind we want to use?"

"Wi," she said, and happily started
to hunt through the mixed heap of blooms.

Heidi turned out to be quick-fingered
and competent, her energy sinking into
a smooth hum of concentration as she
French braided along Judd's crest.

Alicia worked on the withers,
making long braids that trailed
down Judd's shoulder, festooned
with white flowers and a few blues.

Aidan followed her lead, making
a loose net of braids down the tail
and tucking flowers into the junctures.

Nanette brought them a pitcher
of lemonade to share. She and
Lorry had one that probably held
the alcoholic California lemonade.
It made a perfect accompaniment
to the warm breeze and bright sun.

Nanette's mind was still all hinky-prickle
from the incident and whatever attempts
at problem-solving had proven ineffective.

Lorry was preoccupied with stuffing down
his deep-seated desire to find the culprit
and put an end to him, but since Alicia
could have killed him herself if she
had wanted him dead, they would all
try to abide by her choices.

This was Aidan's experience
of the world: times of challenge
followed by moments of comfort.

He could be with his family, with
friends old and new, in a place where
nobody had to hide their abilities or worry
that someone was going to fuss over what
was or was not perceived, where the help
offered and accepted was in fact
both welcome and effective.

He had not expected for Heidi
to fit in so well -- most people didn't --
and yet she did, after all.

One corner of Heidi's awareness
remained intent on something else,
a slow spin of ideas that Aidan couldn't
perceive clearly. He suspected that,
later on, she'd approach the topic of
how to help traumatized children and
offer some useful resources.

For now, though, she talked
Saraphina through the process of
handing them newly-sorted flowers
one at a time to braid into Judd's hair.

The horse's ears slowly drifted
sideways into a lazy vee shape as
he lounged hipshot on the path,
enjoying all of the attention.

Alicia was right. He was
a complete and utter showboat.

Since the work was relaxing,
and it was making Alicia happy,
Aidan didn't mind a bit.

* * *

Notes:

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Much of Aidan's back yard is filled with keyhole beds for permaculture. Center left edge, that black box is a compost bin. The bed just below it with random flowers is Saraphina's play garden, where she can put whatever she wants.

Aidan's house borders on agricultural type land, so there's a small patch of pasture that has been put up for hay or grazing, currently reserved for Judd. (Here's an example of a California permaculture pasture with cows.) When you've got houses near fields, on uneven land like you mentioned with the marshy valley, then you wind up with some odd pockets like that. Judd's guest house lies more-or-less between Aidan's yard and the pasture. This type of horse shelter is flexible and easy to customize. The right side is partially walled off, providing space for storage of hay and tack, plumbing for a water trough, lighting, etc. The fixtures are Aidan's best guess of water and lights that Judd can operate with pull-ropes, although probably not perfected yet. This site gives some sketches and discussion for incorporating storage.

Permaculture uses principles and designs inspired by nature to create miniature, highly productive ecosystems that require a minimum of human labor to maintain. You can lay out a whole yard in zones for different intensities of management. I'm not that fancy, and neither is Aidan; I draw directly from nature and he draws more from archaic food forest designs, but both of us absorb what is useful from contemporary permaculture theory. The keyhole garden is a brilliant example of a small-scale permaculture, which can be iterated into a whole garden if desired.

Tree blocks are made from natural branches with the bark left on. You can buy them or make your own. If you make them, they don't cost a dime. Aidan has of course made this set for Saraphina, as her "outdoor" blocks. There's no worry about keeping them "nice" because if they wear out, he can just make more. The same philosophy applies to tree blocks at parks, which are often available in a bucket or bin for free.

Trauma-informed care accounts for the fact that many survivors of sexual abuse or rape don't tell about it, and that they are prone to negative coping strategies. Terramagne-America makes much better use of evidence-based care, and has higher standards of defining best practices. There are tips for therapists dealing with traumatized clients, assessing and treating sexual abuse, and parents or guardians of sexually abused children.

Hay is made from dried plants, typically grasses or legumes.  It's customarily bundled into huge round rolls, or rectangular bales that break down into individual flakes.  (Don't confuse hay flakes with hay pellets.)  Hay comes in many flavors. Alfalfa and lespedeza are two fine choices. The quality of the hay also matters. Notice that Aidan isn't simply thinking in terms of what's cheap or easy to get, but what Judd will like -- just as if selecting salad fixings for a human guest. This fodder is often served in a hay net, which is a very loose web of rope. You can buy one or make your own. It's often cheaper to make your own, especially if your horse tends to destroy hay nets, because cotton rope is cheap by the hank.

Flower crowns may be made in many styles, including fancy peaks. This method uses knots, while others use wire or braids. Check out this list of flower crowns to make. The same varieties chosen for cut flowers or everlastings often make excellent garlands, because they have long sturdy stems and will stay fresh for a while. By the way, Alicia is right: dandelions are popular but sticky. It is better to avoid making crowns from any flower with gooey white sap.

California has many wildflowers, and Aidan favors native plants in his garden, although he has others as well. Featured examples include farewell-to-spring, pink yarrow, blue-eyed grass, Spanish lavender, tickseed, California poppies, tidy tips, daisy fleabane, white sage, white yarrow, mountain phlox, statice, and strawflowers.

The ice flowers in a nearby rock garden are beautiful, but wilt almost instantly after cutting.

Different species of clover may be sown in a large yard or field to create broad swaths of pink, yellow, and white. Bull clover and Indian clover are two species native to California. A big bed of clover lets small children pick as many flowers as they want without hurting anything. Older children may have the discernment to pluck individual flowers carefully from a cutting bed without getting too frustrated.

Aidan makes various types of rustic benches for his garden. This one looks like two chairs joined by a table, while this is a more traditional bench.

Some people enjoy decorating their horses, and some horses adore the attention. Judd's background as a dressage mount and draft horse has given him experience with dressing up, and he loves it. There are many types of braid to use on a horse's mane or tail. Here is an extensive guide. When adding flowers, you can make simple or full decorations of the mane, or add festoons. The tail can also have flowers. Here is a nice wreath. This is all much easier if you have proper braiding supplies. Aidan stocks a deluxe braiding kit with a toolbelt because he knows that Judd finds this relaxing and so do lots of other folks.

Wi -- yes
-- Haitian Kreyol

California Lemonade is customarily made with alcohol. Here is a nonalcoholic recipe for Organic Lemonade.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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