Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "To Be Something Stronger and Better"

This poem is spillover from the September 3, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from Dreamwidth users Curiosity, Technoshaman, Zeeth_kyrah, and Gingicat.  It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, directly following "The Making of a Wonderful Sculpture."

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $0.25/line, so $5 will reveal 20 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: kestrels_nest, Anthony & Shirley Barrette, janetmiles, ng_moonmoth, Fuzzyred, EdorFaus

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To Be Something Stronger and Better


[Tuesday, October 6, 2015]

Shiv had come home from
the Raleigh Metalwork Show
with a new knife and a lot
of interesting ideas.

He followed Tolli to
the workshop, with
Caroline tagging along,
while Simon headed
into the house.

Caroline was new,
some friend of Tolli
and Simon that Shiv
was trying not to trip over.

The back of Tolli's workshop
held the forges, while the front
mostly held other types of tools
and machines, along with supplies.

Shiv hauled out a box of scrap
and started trying to duplicate
the bird's beak knives he'd seen.

"What the ..." Caroline said.

Shiv looked down at the metal
he was kneading like bread dough.

Without thinking, he had piled up
a few different flavors of iron and
steel, then mushed them together,
push-pull-press and turn.

"Shiv has his own way with
metal," Tolli said smoothly.
"Come on over here and
I'll get you set up."

Caroline quit staring
and went to the bench.

Well, it was only fair.
Shiv had probably been
staring at her hands earlier,
with the loops of metal keeping
the joints more-or-less in place
amidst the web of old breaks.

Shaking himself, he turned
his attention back to the metal.

Once it was kneaded enough
to blend the ingredients, he
started trying to shape a knife.

"You too, huh?" Tolli said,
coming to stand beside him.

"Me too what?" Shiv asked.

"Thinking about what we
saw today, and using that
as inspiration," Tolli said.

Shiv turned the blade in
his hands. It was hard
to get the curve right,
the way he saw it
inside his head.

"Yeah, I guess
I am," Shiv said.
"What are you
thinking about?"

"Something swoopy,"
Tolli said. "I figured I'd grab
some stuff from the scrap box
and make a fire screen."

"You're thinking like --"
Shiv moved his hand in
a graceful curve. "-- some
of the sculptures we saw?
The guy doing the stuff he
said was wind or seaweed?"

"Yes, exactly," Tolli said.

"Have fun with it," Shiv said.
"I got my hands full here."

"Challenges?" Tolli murmured,
leaning over to look at the blade.

"Yeah, I can't quite get the shape
the way that I wanted," Shiv said.

"Well, I know of two ways to make
that kind of knife," Tolli said. "If you
just stamp it out of sheet metal, that's
easy, but doesn't make the best blade.
If you forge it, then you have to make
the shape with your hammer, and
drawing out the tip is hard. But you
end up with a much better blade."

"Huh," Shiv said. He dug out
a piece of flat metal, cut a blade
from it, and compared the two.
"Okay, I feel what you mean.
Thanks for the hint, Tolli."

"Any time," Tolli said.
"I'm going back to the forge
now. If you need me, just holler."

"Yeah, okay," Shiv said.

He glanced over at Caroline,
who was doing something with
a press that put pieces together.

He thought it might have been
some sort of animal, like
the junk sculptures.

Then Shiv went back
to working on his knife.

He thought about the ones
that he'd seen at the show.

They had a thick back,
enough you could hit it with
a mallet if you wanted to,
tapering to a thin edge
and a needle-sharp point.

So he pushed the metal
into a wedge and then tried
to pull it out into a point,
like Tolli had described.

That was a lot harder,
but seemed to be working.

Then something went clang,
making Shiv whirl around
with the knife in his hand.

"It's okay, it's okay,
the damn thing just
fell over," Caroline said.

Tolli helped her lift away
the half-finished sculpture.
"Are you hurt?" he asked.

"No, I think the rings
protected me," she said.
Then she tried to move
her left hand and grimaced.
"But they're all bent on this side."

"Well, if we can get them off,
you can send them in for repair
or order new ones," Tolli said.

"No," Caroline said, shaking
her head fiercely. "If they're bent
badly enough, the company would
just want to replace them, and I don't
want that. My grandmother gave me
these ring splints when I came home
from the army with hand injuries.
She died almost a year ago."

"We might have another option,"
Tolli said. "Shiv, would you
come over here, please?"

"I don't work on people!"
Shiv squawked.

"No, but you do
work on metal and
I've seen what you can
do with silver," Tolli said.
"You can say no, though."

Shiv sighed. He knew that
other people got really attached
to things given by their family.

"All right, I'll come take a look,"
he muttered, and then went
to put down his knife.

What he saw made him stare.

"What the hell?" Shiv said,
turning it in his hands.

"What's wrong?" Tolli said.

"Nothing," Shiv said. "It's just,
I've been trying to make this shape
since we got here, and it wasn't done.
Now it's perfect all of a sudden."

"May I see?" Tolli asked,
coming over beside Shiv.

"Go ahead." Shiv
offered him the knife.

"Earlier you complained
that you couldn't get it to look
like the picture in your head,"
Tolli pointed out. "Maybe
your superpower just made it
conform to that pattern."

"But I thought -- um.
It's not the right kind of
knife for fighting," Shiv said.

"Depends on how you hold it,"
Tolli said. "You were holding
the knife like you'd use a shiv."
He flipped the blade, then mimed
gutting someone with the hook.

"Ohhh ..." Shiv's eyes went wide.

"Wicked," said Caroline.
"Now could somebody please
help me get these ring splints off?
They're very uncomfortable bent."

"Yeah, yeah," Shiv said. He
went over to look at the mess
she'd made of her ring splints.

The silver loops were bent to hell, but
they had probably saved her hand
from getting crushed. Again.

"I think I can bend these back
the way they were," Shiv said.
"Just hold real still now."

He let his awareness
flow through the metal
and feel along the bones
with their distracting lattice
of old seams and chips.

To his surprise, the silver
seemed to leap right back
into its former position.

"That's weird," he said.
"I think they're fixed, though."

"What's weird?" Tolli said.

"It felt like the metal wanted
to go back," Shiv explained.

"Maybe it did," Tolli said.
"Metal has some memory,
in a physical sense. Silver in
particular is described as having
an energy memory too, among
mystical folks. That could be it."

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said.
"It just felt ... different."

"You've been working
mostly with scrap metal,
ingots, or old silverware,"
Tolli said. "That is different
from jewelry that's been on
someone's body for years."

"Great theory, guys, but can I
move now?" Caroline said.

"Yeah, go ahead," Shiv said.
"Try moving your fingers a little,
see if they bend like usual."

Caroline wiggled her hand,
carefully at first, then more.
"It feels fine," she said.
Thank you so much!"

"No problem, but if you're
going to work with metal a lot,
you might want to get rings
made of something stronger,
and save the good silver for
outside the shop," Shiv said.

"Like what?" Caroline asked.

"People make rings out of
titanium," Tolli said. "That's
popular with a lot of veterans
and crafters because it can
stand up to a lot of abuse."

"I think we've got some
around here," Shiv said.
"Or there's the stuff that we
got from Halley and Edison,
what did they call it? Adam?"

"Adamant. It's an alloy of
titanium and whatever else
they managed to dump down
the smelter at WeGeex," Tolli said.
"I thought you were having a hard time
working with that stuff, though."

"Well, it moves slower than
molasses in January," Shiv said.
"I think it'd go faster if I just tried
making these thin ring splints
with it instead of blades."

"Don't you need that
for your own project?"
Caroline asked him.

Shiv just shrugged. "So
I'll make a pocket knife
instead of a field knife."

"Then yes, I would
love to have something
stronger," Caroline said.

Shiv brought out the lump
of adamant, which still looked
a lot like titanium, just brighter
and with an odd sheen as if
titanium's rainbow mode had
been diluted to soap-bubble.

He pressed part of the lump
into a sausage shape and then
sliced off ovals from it at an angle.

Next he cut out the middles
to make rings, remembering what
Tolli told him about sheet-cut knives.

It was a lot easier than trying to push
the stuff into place, even though
dymondine would barely cut it.

Rounding the edges still took
a lot of effort, but he managed.

"Okay, show me your current set,"
Shiv said. "I need to match that."

"Here." Caroline stripped off
her splint rings, and her fingers
twisted out of alignment.

"Thanks," Shiv said as he
matched up silver and adamant
versions of each splint ring.

He knew it was vital to get
the sizes and angles exact.

When Caroline tried them on,
though, her eyes widened.
"Wow, that is a lot stronger.
There's no give at all."

"There won't be, with
adamant, or even if I
switched to titanium,"
Shiv said. "Do I need
to change something else?"

"Yes, shift some of the angles
a little bit," Caroline said.
"I can point to where."

She did that, and she also
told him the angles in degrees.

In the end, though, Shiv
shook his head and said,
"Just put them back on and
let me adjust the angles while
you wear them, so that you
can feel what I'm doing."

It took some tweaking,
but finally they fit.

"Thank fuck,"
Shiv panted, and
flopped into a chair.

Tolli was beside him
instantly. "Are you okay?"

"Tired." Shiv's stomach
snarled. "Hungry."

Lunch was no more
than a dim memory.

"Here." A packet
of energy gel waved
in front of Shiv's face.

He grabbed it and
sucked it down,
only then realizing
that Caroline had
handed it to him.

"All right, let's get you
into the house," Tolli said.

"But you didn't finish
your project," Shiv said.

"It's done enough that I can
leave it for later," Tolli said,
pointing toward the forge.

The fire screen stood
beside the anvil where
Tolli had left it earlier.

It wasn't seaweed,
it was a stand of cattails,
their long sword-like leaves
plaited together by the wind.

"S'beautiful," Shiv said.

"Well, mine's junk,"
Caroline muttered.

"So throw it back in
the box and just make
something else," Shiv said.
"It's what I do with crap."

"Yeah, but everything
I make is crap now,"
Caroline said. "I need
to be independent, and ...
that's not working out for me."

"When iron and carbon come
together, they make steel," Tolli said.
"To be something stronger and better,
you must unite with something else
and melt in something else."

"Like what?" Caroline said.

"For me and Simon, it was
family," said Tolli. "For you,
it could be anything."

Shiv was shaking.
Those were scary ideas.

He had a hard enough time
just getting by, without having
nightmares about melting and
not even being himself anymore.

"Come on, Shiv, find your feet,"
Tolli coaxed. "You need real food
and then somewhere to lie down."

"Upstairs," Shiv begged as Tolli
hauled him upright. He didn't
want to get plopped on the couch
with a stranger in the house.

"Kitchen first, and then upstairs,"
Tolli agreed. Caroline hurried
ahead of them to open the door.

When they made it to the house,
Simon said, "What happened?"

"Shiv overdid it a bit," Tolli said.
"He needs calories and then rest."

"No problem," Simon said. "Shiv,
what do you want to eat?"

"Grilled peanut butter
with honey and bananas?"
Shiv said wistfully. "S'fast,
and not too hard to make."

Dr. G had turned him onto
the version with bananas
and peanut butter, then Tolli
showed him how to add honey.

"Coming right up," Simon said,
rolling under his workspace.

Tolli put Shiv in a kitchen chair.
"Can you stay seated?" he said.

"I'm fine," Shiv snapped.

"Can I help?" Caroline asked,
looking around the kitchen.

"Sure, slice a banana,"
Simon said, pointing with
his elbow toward the fruit.

He spread peanut butter on
the second slice of bread,
then topped it with honey.

It didn't take long for him
to grill up the sandwich.

Shiv snatched it as soon
as it came within reach,
burning his fingers a bit
and not caring at all.

He was licking honey
off the plate when
the second sandwich
landed in front of him.

Shiv scarfed it down too.

After that, things started
to get kind of wobbly.

"Okay, that's enough,"
Tolli said, taking the plate.
"You need to lie down."

"Mmmbed," Shiv said.

"That's right, we're going
upstairs to your bed now,"
Tolli said. "Hang onto me."

He hauled Shiv to his feet
and steered him to the stairs.

They had an elevator, but Shiv
was too stubborn to use it, and
Tolli knew better than to argue.

Shiv stumbled the last few steps
and collapsed onto his bed.

"May I take your shoes off?"
Tolli asked, patting his foot.

"Mmh," Shiv muttered,
waggling his foot in
Tolli's general direction.

Gentle hands undid the laces,
then tugged off the shoes.

A warm weight covered him,
and Shiv recognized the blanket
that he had made entirely by accident,
not realizing that his practice knitting
was supposed to be separate pieces.

Its soft colors perfectly matched
his bedroom in Tolli and Simon's house.

"Get some sleep," Tolli murmured,
his hand warm and heavy on
Shiv's shoulder. "If you're not up
by supper, I'll check on you then."

As Shiv drifted off, he thought that,
if he had to melt into something
in order to get better and stronger,
this was the best he could get.

Maybe that wasn't so scary after all.

* * *

Notes:

“When iron and carbon come together, there emerges steel! To be something stronger and better, you must mostly unite with something else and melt in something else!”
Mehmet Murat ildan

A bird's beak knife is a type of paring knife that can do different things.

Caroline wears ring splints with a swan neck design to support fingers that were once badly broken and now shift out of alignment

Titanium rings have a totally different set of advantages and disadvantages compared to the usual "jewelry" metals. Which metal is the best choice depends entirely on personal preference and lifestyle. The very features that make titanium ideal for rough-and-ready folks make it unappealing to many others.

Enjoy a recipe for Grilled Peanut Butter Honey and Banana Sandwiches.  One sandwich has about 532 calories and contains plentiful nutrients.

There are basic and advanced instructions for knitting swatches.  If you are methodical about knitting and like to repeat successes, it is highly advisable to keep your swatches in a record book.  If not, there are many crafts you can do with them, of which a blanket is one of the easiest.

When Shiv learns how to knit, he uses the ends of yarn left over from other projects. Instead of making individual practice swatches, he sticks them all together -- he didn't realize the instructions expected each one to be separate. Pretty soon he winds up with a whole afghan. You can see his love of variegated and textured yarns. Many of these are ripple or slub yarns, some are visibly fuzzy, and a few are smooth. The colors suit his room at Simon and Tolliver's house. He uses a few different simple stitches to show off the yarns.

Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, writing
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