Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Cutting of the Gem"

This is a birthday gift for [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It is spillover from the July 2, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] zianuray and also fills the "Art" square in my 6-1-19 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"The Cutting of the Gem"

[Monday, February 9, 2015]

"Shiv, would you enjoy
a surprise today?" Tolli said.

Shiv narrowed his eyes.
"What kind of surprise?"

"The kind I know you'll like,
because it's a bigger example
of things you've already loved
in the past," Tolli explained.

Well, that might not suck too much.

"Why?" Shiv wondered. "It's not
my birthday or anything like that."

"Graham told me that you've been
doing a lot of hard things lately --
no other details, of course, because
privacy maintains -- so we thought
that some compensatory joys might
help boost your mood," Tolli said.

Okay, yeah, Shiv had been
busting his ass in therapy and
at work. "Maybe," he said.

"Let's take a little trip," Tolli said.
"When we get there, you can
peek and see if you like it
enough to go inside."

"And if I don't want to?"
Shiv challenged.

"Hmm ... how about
I buy you lunch at
a crab shack as
forfeit," Tolli said.

"Deal," Shiv said.
At least he'd get fed.

So they drove through
Raleigh to a street lined
with all different shops.

Tolli parked and they
walked down the block
until he said, "All right,
here we are. Welcome to
Diamonds in the Rough."

"Huh?" Shiv said, looking at
a storefront full of ... jewelry he'd
like to steal, but he knew Tolli
wouldn't bring him here for that.

"This store sells rocks, glass, metal,
and tools for turning those into art,"
Tolli said, pulling the door open.
"We thought that it might help
for you to have materials for
something fun and constructive."

Curious, Shiv stepped inside.

The floor was hardwood,
the walls painted soft ivory,
and the shelves mostly glass.

All around, boxes and piles
of rocks covered the shelves.

"Ooo," Shiv breathed, enchanted by
all the little things dancing along
the edges of his superpower.

"Come this way," Tolli said,
catching him by the elbow.

"Hey," Shiv whined, pulling
away. "I want to look at
all the cool stuff in here!"

"We'll do that shortly," Tolli said.
"I want to show you a resource first."

Thinking Tolli meant to show him
the best stuff, Shiv followed along.

But the corner Tolli led him to was empty.

There were no shelves and no rocks,
only a padded bench and chairs
around a plain wooden table.
A floor plant stood nearby.

"What the hell?" Shiv said.
"Why is this space empty?"

"Because you aren't the only one
who gets overstimulated sometimes,"
Tolli said. "This is the quiet corner.
It gives people a place to relax and
unwind. They can use the table
for sorting materials, but there's
nothing here to excite the senses."

Shiv thought about how his superpower
occasionally started stabbing him in
the brain when he'd done too much.

"Okay, I get it now," he said.

"Great," Tolli said. "Let's sit down
for a minute and discuss plans."

"Shovel stuff in my pockets
'til I clink?" Shiv said.

Tolli chuckled. "I meant
we should talk about whether
you want to shop alone or with
company, and discuss the budget."

"Together," Shiv said. "I think I'd
get lost, or zone, without you."

"Then I'll stick with you," Tolli said.

"Thanks," Shiv said. "What do you
mean about the budget, though?
I got my wallet." He patted it.

"I'm covering it so you can relax,
not worry about money," Tolli said.

"Okay, I won't turn down a free ride,"
Shiv said. "What're the numbers?"

"Your budget for today is $100,"
Tolli said, and Shiv boggled at him.
"I suggest you think of that as
$25 for stone, $25 for glass,
$25 for metal, and $25 for
whatever else you want,
not counting any books."

Oddly, that made Shiv feel
scrunched. "I can't buy books?"

"You can choose books,
but those don't come out of
your budget," Tolli clarified.

"Why not?" Shiv wondered.
"I thought you liked books."

"Because they're not going
to compete well against all
of the shiny stuff in here, and if
you want books then I want you
to have them," Tolli replied.
"So I'm buying the books."

"Okay, what's the budget
for books?" Shiv said.

"Don't worry about it,"
Tolli said. "In fact, don't
even look at the prices, just
hand me any books you want."

Shiv squirmed. "But what if
I pick too many?" he said.
"I can't keep it under a budget
if I don't know what that is.
I might run the bill too high."

Tolli sighed. "I don't think you
will, because you're not a bookworm.
I would not make that offer to any of
your cousins. But if the lack of budget
makes you uncomfortable, then I'll
set one. I'm trying to help here."

"Oh," Shiv said. "Um ... maybe
we could look around and see
if there are even any books I
like? No point arguing over it
if none of them grab me."

"That works for me,"
Tolli said with a nod.
"Come back to the front
of the store, and we can
start exploring. I suggest
that you look around to see
what they have before you
decide what you want."

That was good advice.

Shiv followed Tolli back
toward the door, then spun
in place to see everything.

The main room held a lot of
finished products like jewelry and
little stone boxes, but it also had
baskets of smooth polished stones
and slices of rock in stacks.

One window was completely filled
by a bookcase with stone figurines,
more tumbled rocks, stone spheres
like bowling balls with no holes, and
a huge hollow rock with purple points
inside it. Lower down, he found
a tray full of worry stones.

Shiv picked up a clear one.
"Boss White has one like this,
but it's white," he said.

"I can see why," Tolli said.
"They're very soothing."

The wall by the window
was covered in crystals,
carved shapes, and
less-defined lumps in
white, pink, purple, clear,
and many other colors.

"Wow," Shiv said softly.

Tolli smiled. "That's how
I feel in here, too. It's special."

Then Shiv found a rack that puzzled him.
"These just look like ... rock-rocks," he said.
"They're not fancy like the others in here."

"Take a closer look," Tolli suggested.
"Are they all the same? Do they
remind you of anything else?"

"Well ... that pile is all round, but
the one under them is striped,"
Shiv said. "Some of the ones in
the bottom bin look like glass.
Oh, and there's hunks of
that pointy purple rock."

"The round ones are geodes,
hollow rocks with crystals inside.
The one beneath them might be
an agate. I think the glassy ones
are fluorite. The purple crystals are
amethyst," Tolli said, pointing to them.

"Okay, but why are they different
from the others?" Shiv asked.

"These haven't been carved
or polished yet," said Tolli.
"They're raw materials instead
of finished products. These
are for artists to buy, not
for regular shoppers."

"Huh," Shiv said,
and wandered away.

The next shelf held tools
that he didn't know what
to do with, and then he
came to a bookcase.

"The top shelf has books
on how to make jewelry or
other things from stone,"
said Tolli. "The lower shelf
has simpler books about
how to identify rocks. You
might choose one of each."

Shiv trailed a finger along
the shelf, but he didn't
touch any of the books.

"How do I know which ones
are any good?" he asked.

Tolli picked up a small book
from the lower shelf. "Here,"
he said. "You can't go wrong
with a Golden Guide. This is
our go-to series for introducing
any of the natural sciences."

"Rocks, Gems, and Minerals,"
Shiv read, tracing the words.

He opened the book and found it
full of colorful pictures, the text
straightforward and easy to read
but detailed instead of fluff.

"Yeah, okay," he said,
handing it to Tolli. "Get it."

"We're off to a good start,"
Tolli declared. He bent down
to pick up a basket from a stack
and placed the book inside it.

The next room held glass.

"Woah," Shiv said, staring at
a whole wall of fishbowls filled
with little bits of cut glass.

"Those are mosaic pieces,"
Tolli said. "You buy them by
the scoop, priced per pound.
If you like them, then consider
coming here as your last stop
in the glass room, to finish off
whatever money you have left."

"Yeah, I could use any of those,"
Shiv said. "I'll come back later."

Another wall held big panes of
glass in bright colors, along with
long thin rods on special racks.

There was another bookcase,
too, with titles on everything
from stained glass to lampwork.

"Introduction to Glass Fusing,"
Tolli read. "Check this out.
It explains cutting and patterns,
with a bunch of whole projects.
Fusing is a lot like what you do --
you just wouldn't need a kiln."

Shiv peeked around Tolli's shoulder
and saw the pictures. "Yeah, I
could follow the illustrations.
Put that one in the basket."

"Done," Tolli said, then winked
at Shiv. "Look behind you."

Shiv turned around, and squealed.

The opposite wall was covered
in squares of dichroic glass,
all priced at a buck apiece.

Shiv started grabbing
one of each color.

"Just a second,"
Tolli said, holding up
a hand. "Did you see
anything else in this room
that you want to consider?"

"Well yeah, but the big panes
cost more," Shiv said. "If I buy
these, I can get more colors."

"Then you made a good decision,"
Tolli said, waving him on. "Go to town."

Shiv picked up fifteen squares,
then said, "I think I'll go back
to the mosaic wall and get
some tiny pieces to mix in."

He wound up picking
a $5 scoop of multicolor bits
and five $1 scoops of shapes in
blue, green, purple, red, and white.

Shiv needed another basket of
his own just for the glass supplies.

On the way out, he found another book,
Dictionary of Glass: Materials and Techniques.
Some of the definitions were short, but others
were longer and some even had pictures.

The last room held racks of metal stock.

One whole section was all steel
of different types and shapes.
A cardboard display held
sheets of brass and copper.

There were jewelry findings and
scraps of titanium and niobium.

"If you buy shaped pieces,
they cost more," Tolli pointed out.
"If you buy scrap, it's much cheaper."

Shiv couldn't resist picking up
just one baggie of niobium rings
already in peacock colors.

The titanium scrap squares
barely showed their potential,
and the hunks of steel were plain,
325 so he bought the most of those.

He added a sheet each of brass,
bronze, copper, and tin for comparison.

"That's most of your surplus," Tolli said.

"Yeah, but metal's the most familiar
to me," Shiv said. "I know I can work it."

"Fair enough," Tolli said, nodding.
"Anything else from this room?"

"Books, too?" Shiv said hopefully
as he eyed a display table.

"Of course," Tolli said. He
handed Shiv a hefty book.
"Here, I learned on this one."

"Step by Step Knifemaking,"
Shiv said. "Oh hell yes!"
Then another title caught
his eye, and he picked it up.

"The Art of Sculpture Welding?"
Tolli asked, glancing at it.

"Yeah, it's like the glass book,
it has projects with pictures,"
Shiv said. "I bet that I could
make most of these things."

"I'm sure you could," Tolli said,
adding both to the basket.

As they walked back toward
the front of the store, Shiv
looked at the quiet corner
and then said, "Could we
maybe ... for a minute?"

"Sure," Tolli said.
"Pull up a seat."

They sat down, and
Shiv picked up a handful
of his scrap titanium.

"Is it safe to ...?" he said.

"If you need to fidget,
go ahead. We're buying
the metal," Tolli said. "Besides,
I know the owner here, and
he certainly won't mind.'

"Cool," Shiv said. He
pressed the squares
into a single lump.

Then he began
pulling the metal into
the form of a horse,
running with its neck
stretched out flat and
its tail streaming behind.

The shape was sleek,
stylized, flowing in curves
as if it was made of liquid
instead of solid metal.

"That's beautiful," Tolli said.
"It doesn't look quite like
your usual style, though."

Yeah, Shiv tended toward
sharp angles and edges.

"I took class in gesture drawing,"
he said. "It's not so much about
drawing a horse. It's more like ...
trying to draw the idea of a horse.
The motion, the speed, the freedom."

He traced the line of the mane,
fingertip leaving an indentation
in the middle of the line.

Under his touch, the metal
darkened to nearly black,
highlighted with hints of
bronze and gold, like
sunlight on a dark horse.

"Hey, Tolli!" said a voice.

Startled, Shiv looked up
to see a man wearing
a heavy leather apron.

"Hi, Cray," said Tolli.
"Shiv, Cray is the owner
of the store. Cray, this
is Shiv. We're shopping
for art supplies today."

"So I see," Cray said.
"That's a pretty piece.
I don't recognize it from
the store, though."

"I uh ... I made it,"
Shiv said. In his hands,
the metal rippled again,
like a breeze blowing
through the horse's tail.

"Amazing," Cray said.
"You control metal?"

"Metal, stone, glass --
anything hard enough,"
Shiv said with a shrug.

He put the horse down
so he wouldn't smush it.

"Stone?" said Cray. "I bet that
you'd make a fantastic gemcutter."

"Given your love of sharp edges,
I agree," Tolli said, smiling.

"Nuh uh!" Shiv shook his head.

"Why not?" Cray said. "You
don't like gemstones?"

"I make weapons, or tools,
not art crap," Shiv said.

Well ... that wasn't as true
now as it used to be. But still.
He didn't make jewels.

Cray gave him a smile
that looked like a challenge.
"Wait right here," he said.

As Shiv watched the owner
walk away, he wondered
what the hell was going on.

"Why's he doing this?"
Shiv said, turning to Tolli.

"Oh, Cray has this thing
about encouraging people,"
Tolli said. "You'll see."

Cray came back with
a basket of supplies.

First he set down
several faceted balls.

"They're all crooked,"
Shiv pointed out.

"These are student work,"
Cray said. "They're not even,
but they still sparkle just fine.
Anyone can learn to do this
in an afternoon workshop."

Shiv touched one with
his superpower, feeling
how the facets worked.

Okay, that didn't seem
like it would be too difficult.

"I've done flint knapping,"
Shiv admitted. "That's easy."

"I've got flint, agate, glass,
and other materials for knapping,"
Cray said. "Now watch this."

He took out a little lump
of clay and a knife. With
just a few strokes, he
changed the lump into
a jewel with quirky facets.

"That's kinda cool," Shiv said.

Instead of passing him the clay,
Cray gave him a clear rock.

"This is rough quartz, cheap
as dirt, so don't worry about
making mistakes," Cray said.
"Give it a try, on the house."

Shiv looked at Tolli for
reassurance, and Tolli
nodded approval.

The quartz was lumpy,
but when Shiv pushed
his superpower into it,
facets flaked off neatly.

"Oh! It goes in sixes,"
Shiv said, enlightened.

"Quartz crystals form
hexagons," Cray said.
"So they have six sides."

It didn't take long for Shiv
to turn the lump into a ball
with facets that glimmered
when he sent it spinning.

"Hah! I knew you could
do it," Cray said, grinning.

"Yeah, yeah," Shiv said.
"Guess it doesn't suck."

It wasn't as much fun
as making knives, but ...

Shiv tapped the quartz
again, watching it roll
around the tabletop.

"The first one is free,"
Cray said with a chuckle.

And just like that, Shiv was
back on familiar ground.

"I got a budget," he said.

"Smart man," Cray agreed.
"Now, are you at the end of it?"

"Nah, I still got some left for
for the rock room," Shiv said.

"Let me show you the raw stuff
that's good for beginners," Cray said.
"Quartz comes in a bunch of colors,
but if you want something softer,
try agate or even onyx."

"No, harder is easier
for me," Shiv said.

"Then try aquamarine
or topaz instead," said Cray.

He scooped up the supplies
and then led the two of them
to a rack of rough stones.

"This section is sorted by
hardness," he explained.
"The top baskets contain
the softest stones, and
the lower ones get harder."

Shiv had no trouble
picking out a nice batch
of rocks for carving.

Cray also pointed him
to a book on the topic:
Gemstone Tumbling,
Cutting, Drilling &
Cabochon Making

"You've got a little over
$6 left," Tolli said to Shiv.

"Mosaic bins," Shiv said,
so they went back and got
more of the multicolor pieces.

By then both of them were
hauling two baskets each,
and the stuff was heavy.

"Checkout?" Shiv panted.

"Right over here," Tolli said,
leading him to the register.

As they piled everything
on the counter, Shiv said,
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm
really making any progress."

"You are," Tolli said. "It's just
that the cutting of the gem
has to be finished before you
can see whether it shines."

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear separately.
Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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