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Poem: "Even If It Is in Flames" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Even If It Is in Flames"
This poem came out of the March 6, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mama_kestrel and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "accidents" square in my 6-16-17 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] stardreamer. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. The sequel, "Burnt and Experienced Hands," is still available for sponsorship.

WARNING: This poem includes material likely to disturb many readers. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features extensive repetition of bad tape from Shiv's abusive past, including severe verbal and emotional torment. WARN ALL THE THINGS! The poem also includes breakfast indecision, inexperience with cooking because nobody ever trusted Shiv in a kitchen while he was growing up, temporary fugue state due to abuse, kitchen mishaps escalating to a grease fire, panic, rescue, emotional overwhelm, self-blame, and other mayhem. Bear in mind that this poem is mostly hurt with a little comfort at the end; most of the comfort comes in the sequel. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. However, this is a significant plot point, so skipping it would leave a gap.


"Even If It Is in Flames"


When Shiv woke up for the first time
in his own apartment above Blues Moon,
he stayed in bed for a few extra minutes
just to enjoy the sheer luxury of it.

Get your lazy ass out of bed.

Nothing good lasted for long,
in Shiv's experience. He got up,
then padded into the bathroom
to get ready for the rest of the day.

By the time he wandered into
the kitchen in search of food,
he was most of the way awake.

Yesterday Boss White had
said something about putting in
a few basics and that Shiv should plan
to go shopping soon to fill out the rest,
but Shiv hadn't had the energy to do
more than rack out last night.

Sugar and salt sat on the counter,
still in their paper bags, along with
a loaf of bread and a bowl of fruit
left out on the kitchen table.

In one cabinet Shiv found
some tomato sauce, spaghetti,
rotini, macaroni and cheese,
both canned and dried beans,
Vienna sausages, and tuna.

Another held boxes of
soup mix, brownie mix,
all-purpose baking mix,
and a jug of vegetable oil.

He moved the baking mixes
to open shelves where
he could see them.

The refrigerator held
a big brick of butter,
a carton of eggs, and
a box of shelf-stable milk.

There was no breakfast cereal,
neither hot nor cold of any kind.

Shiv opened the cabinet and
stared at his options. He'd eaten
cold beans for breakfast before.

He sighed and closed the door.

No, you can't skip breakfast,
don't you even know to eat
three meals a day?


It was like a tape recorder
inside his head, playing back
all the mean shit people had
said to him growing up.

Dr. G said a lot of folks
had trouble with bad tape,
especially if they'd had
a hard time growing up.

Shiv's head was nothing but
bad tape and worse memories.

He'd been told before to think of
something nice when that happened,
but it never worked for him because
he couldn't think of nice things.

Maybe he should ask Dr. G
about that some time.

Shiv's stomach growled, and
he pushed the thoughts aside.
He had more important things
to worry about now than the fact
his head was a fucking mess.

Opening the refrigerator, he
pulled out the eggs and butter.
Then he grabbed the skillet.

How hard could it be to cook eggs?

Don't touch the stove, brat,
you'll burn yourself or
set the house on fire
.

Shiv froze, his fingers
hovering just above the dial.

The words looped through
his head, over and over again,
until he shook himself hard.

Angrily Shiv dropped the skillet
on the stove and wrenched the dial on.

He hacked off a piece of butter,
swearing when bits of paper stuck to it
so he had to pick them off with his fingers.
The he scraped the butter into the pan.

Damn stuff wouldn't melt.

Shiv glared at the butter,
but it just lay there, not melting.

He turned the dial all the way up
and went to fuck with the eggs.

There was a way to bust them open
without making a mess -- Shiv had
seen people do that on TV -- but
he didn't know how, so he just
whacked one on the pan.

The egg smashed in his hand,
dripping yellow gunk on the stove.

Disgusted, Shiv shook his hand,
and now there was egg snot
all over everything.

"Fuck!" he yelled.

You can't do anything right,
you useless little twerp
.

It was hard to argue with
the voices in his head when they
knew what they were talking about.

Shiv reached for another egg,
and that's when the mess
on the stove caught fire.

I told you so. I told you so,
rang in his head as he stared at it
.

Then the whole damn pan lit up.

Shiv yelled as the flames
whooshed up toward the lights
hung underneath the cabinets
that stretched over the stove.

Smoke poured into the air,
making him cough and wheeze.

Vaguely he remembered something
about not throwing water on a kitchen fire,
but he couldn't think what else to do.

Then he spotted the lid to the skillet.

Shiv might be a moron but even he knew
that fire had to breathe, like a live thing.

He tried to put the lid over the skillet
and smother the fire, but it was so hot
that he dropped the lid halfway on it.

Some of the flames bent toward him,
making Shiv jerk back in panic.

Burning butter splattered
over the stove, smoking.

Now look what you've done.

Suddenly strong arms wrapped
around him, pulling Shiv to safety
even as a familiar mind eased the panic.

Lieutenant Brown darted past them,
and a fire extinguisher whooshed
over the flaming stovetop.

Shiv went nearly limp with relief
and let Boss White haul him out of
the kitchen into the dining room.

"Are you hurt?" the older man said,
looking worried as he turned Shiv around.

"I-I'm fine," Shiv stammered. "I couldn't
really get close enough to do much."

Fucking retard, you ruin
everything that you touch
.

"Oh, thank god," said Boss White,
pulling Shiv into a brief embrace.
"You had me worried there a minute."

It felt too good to shake off, even though
Shiv knew that he didn't deserve it.

"Bu-but the kitchen," Shiv said,
trying to see how bad it was.

"Nevermind about that,
it'll keep," Boss White said.
"Just tell me what happened."

Shiv gave a halting report
of his disastrous attempt
to make himself breakfast.

"I'm sorry, boss, really I am!"
he said, hugging himself.

Sorry doesn't cut it, kid.

"That's life, Shiv," said Boss White.
"Sometimes you just gotta ignore
all the hassles and jump through
the hoop, even if it is in flames."

Shiv sniffled, and the smoke from
the kitchen made him sneeze.
"But it's all my f-fault --"

He really was a fuckup
who couldn't do anything right.

And dammitall, he was still hungry.

Just another mouth to feed.

"Hush," Boss White said gently,
cupping the back of Shiv's neck, and
the voices finally shut the fuck up.

Shiv sighed and leaned against him,
shaking, trying desperately not to cry.

"Go on down to the kitchen, now,"
Boss White said with a gentle nudge.
"Me and Lieutenant Brown can clean up
the mess here. Cook will give you breakfast,
and a couple of lessons wouldn't go amiss."

Shiv was too scared and mad to ask
what kind of lessons. He just slunk out
and left them to fix up his kitchen.

* * *

Notes:

"I advise you to say your dream is possible and then overcome all inconveniences, ignore all the hassles and take a running leap through the hoop, even if it is in flames."
-- Les Brown

This picture shows the outside of Blues Moon with the main floor and two layers of apartments. The Ebonies & Ivories also own the two buildings that flank it. The taller one on the left is a multipurpose building with a retail floor under six floors of apartments. The smaller building on the right serves as storage space for artwork and furnishings which can be used in any of the apartments above the jazz joint.

The basement of Blues Moon contains the working part of the lair. The largest office below the lunch room belongs to Boss White. The one across from it is the guest room. The accounts/manager and board room offices are shared space. The big corner office in the upper right is the patch room. They actually don't have an exercise room in their own lair; instead they have a group membership at a nearby gym. Here is the layout of the main floor showing the jazz club and restaurant.

The two floors above the club have apartments similar to these. The hallway extends all the way to the back stairs. The central stairwell and elevator is instead a common lounge area.
On the lower floor, the front right "open" apartment is a flop room with multiple beds, which can sleep a total of 12 people. The front left "Mies" apartment is furnished normally, but not permanently assigned, used as temporary housing or extra function space as needed. Shiv gets the back left "standard" apartment, with the bathroom protected inside the bedroom. Popgun has the right middle semi-open apartment. On the top floor, Boss White has the back left "standard" apartment, and Lieutenant Brown has the back right semi-open apartment.

This is the key to Shiv's apartment over Blues Moon. Shiv's kitchen is a cozy little L tucked into the front of his apartment. He has three blue prints on the wall there. Shiv's dining room has a small table and a quote on the wall. Shiv's living room includes a black-bordered blanket spread over a large futon. On the wall he has a photoprint of saxophonist Mark Turner. This is one of Shiv's houseplants. Here is the mail sorter. This light switch has another sticker. Shiv's bedroom has the bed done in blue. Shiv's bathroom has a snowflake theme.

Kitchen fires pose a significant hazard, as they often start with grease, which spreads easily. The most potent way to put out a grease fire is with a Class K fire extinguisher, like commercial kitchens use when they have a deep-fat fryer. An ABC fire extinguisher, popular for home use, can put out small grease fires such as a single pan. When buying a fire extinguisher, consider which is the best tool for the job. Blues Moon stocks the Multipurpose Home Fire Extinguisher FA110 in the apartments, an excellent ABC model. I disapprove of "safety advice" that trains people to be helpless. "Let your house burn down" is a shitty Plan A, especially in local-America where obeying that rule will likely destroy your life due to little if any help recovering from losses. Learn how to put out a grease fire, and when to cut and run.

Stocking a pantry involves choosing staple foods that can be used to make a wide variety of recipes. Many of these are nonperishable, such as dry pasta and canned vegetables. Boss White wanted to make sure that Shiv had something to eat in his new apartment, in case Shiv didn't have the time or energy to go shopping immediately. Here is a checklist of pantry essentials.

Commodity foods are those purchased to support agriculture and which are thus generally available through government programs. There is also a lot of overlap between what foods the government subsidizes directly and what foods it dispenses to the needy. Some things like butter and sugar don't appear on the current list, but are subsidized and commonly handed out.

Rotini is an execellent all-purpose type of pasta suitable for soup, salad, casserole, and many other dishes. Enjoy some recipes with rotini. Dry pasta is an essential pantry staple because you can make so many things with it.

Box mixes form another category of kitchen essentials. To save money, you can make your own with many recipes.

The rewind button in the brain can replay good tape or bad tape. But mostly, these guys are assholes. Undoing verbal abuse requires silencing the inner critic. This involves changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Here are some examples of those changes, and a list of positive self-talk statements. Shiv has a hard time because he has rarely heard phrases from positive parenting. In order to work, positive statements must feel true. If not, the mind rejects them and may even work against them. Often it's necessary to start with a small step ("I am trying something new.") before working up to the main goal ("I am making great progress.") later. Here is a list of affirmations sorted by category.

Emotional and sexual abuse are notorious for causing people to zone out. This dissociation connects with many other signs of unresolved trauma. Learn how to stop zoning out.

Eggs are nutritious and make an excellent breakfast. Eating them has many benefits. You can cook them in lots of recipes. However, breaking eggs takes practice.

Butter is healthier than margarine and has various health benefits. However, it has a low smoke point, which poses a challenge to cooks. Ghee, or clarified butter, is better than regular butter. For one thing, it's almost impossible to burn under normal cooking conditions. Ordinary butter will eagerly catch fire if you fuck up in the kitchen. Just think of ghee as butter ... with superpowers.

Butter fires can be devastating. Watch a video of butter catching fire, and see what happens when you throw water on a grease fire. Learn some safe ways of putting out a grease fire.

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