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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Soul Song"
This poem is spillover from the February 2, 2021 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by [personal profile] nsfwords. It also fills the "Soul Song" square in my 2-1-21 "Romance Book Titles" card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This is the first poem in the Eloquent Souls series.

"Soul Song"

Soul marks are stupid.

Hadleigh had come to
this conclusion years ago,
long before her own appeared.

She had seen too many of them
that were silly or embarrassing,
and felt sorry for the bearers.

Now she wishes that she
could have any of the others,
from her mother's ridiculous,
I'm Luke Hightower. I'm here
to rescue you!
to her best friend's,
July 1, 2024, good morning,

and even her little sister's
unenviable, Holy shit, it's you!

Hadleigh's seen all kinds of things,
but she knows it could be worse.

She's had the same horrible words
wrapped around her right arm
since she was fourteen -- and
not just a dainty bracelet around
her wrist, no, they cover almost
her whole forearm to the elbow.

'Cause you can't jump the track,
we're like cars on a cable
And life's like an hourglass,
glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe ... just breathe

Hadleigh definitely doesn't want
to meet the dick who's so insecure
or obsessed about soulmarks that
he has to use a tagline that long.

As far as Hadleigh is concerned,
her soulmark is just the eye-rolling olive
on top of the shit sandwich that is her life.

It's not like she had much of a chance
to begin with, growing up in a trailer park
with a mother who works three jobs
and a father who definitely did not
rescue her from any of that.

So Hadleigh pulls on
long fingerless gloves
to cover up the ugly words,
and maybe people stare
a little but that's better
than them staring a lot.

They probably just think
she's a weirdo or maybe
a member of some church
that preaches soul modesty.

Whatever. Hadleigh will
take what she can get.

Right now, what she
can get is a seat at
the community college
learning Office Studies.

It's boring as fuck, but
she needs to work as
soon as she graduates,
and a secretary can get
a job pretty much anywhere.

Her best friend Blinda
drags Hadleigh out to
to the new coffeehouse
one Friday for open mike,
and Hadleigh really should've
said no because they have
a midterm test on Monday --

and then Hadleigh hears her Words.

They're not a stupid tagline at all.
They're part of a song that she
just walked into the middle of.

'Cause you can't jump the track,
we're like cars on a cable
And life's like an hourglass,
glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe ... just breathe

The boy on the stage is
about her age, wrapped in
fishnet and fake leather with
a spiked collar around his neck,

but his face is heart-shaped and sweet
under a shock of jade-green hair, and
he looks so tender and concerned
that it's like he's urging her personally
to breathe, like it matters to him.

Maybe it does. He's supposed
to be her soulmate and all.

Hadleigh does not, despite
years of planning, turn around
and walk away from her soulmate.

She lets Blinda push her into
a chair and buy her a soda thing
that is way too sweet and fizzy.

It isn't until the song ends and
Blinda disappears that Hadleigh
realizes, oh shit, she's dragging
the singer over to the table now.

Because Blinda has seen Hadleigh
fresh out of the shower and knows
all about the Words of Doom and
is still her best friend anyway.

Shit shit shit now what?

Blinda steers the singer
to the table and then gives
Hadleigh an expectant look.

"Hi, I'm Stellan Clare, but
I'm not much of a star yet,"
he says, sounding bashful.

Up close, Hadleigh can see
that he's really cute and has
eye shadow in three colors --
green, yellow, and melon --
applied with considerable skill.

Something makes her think
he didn't get a female friend
to do the design for him, either.

"You're not half as stupid as I
thought you'd be," she blurts,
and then she claps a hand
over her mouth in horror.

Who knows how long
the poor bastard has been
wearing that on his arm.

He probably hates her.

But he just gives Hadleigh
a quirky smile and says,
"If you've got a quote from
that song on your skin,
that explains a lot."

Then he takes off
the spiked collar, and
Jesus fuck, her Words are
wrapped around his throat.

She wonders if he ever felt
like they were choking him.

She looks at the sharp spikes
on the collar and thinks maybe
they were meant to fend off
the kind of bitch who would
say something so mean
to a guy she'd just met.

"So uh ... sorry about that,"
she says with a vague wave.
"I'm Hadleigh Hightower.
I hope that I didn't fuck up
your life too much with that."

"Nah, my life was fucked up
a long time before my mark
came in," Stellan says easily,
and his voice is like hot cocoa.
Hadleigh wants more of it already.
"I've learned how to cope with it."

"You don't hate it?" she says.

"Well, yeah, for a while I did,"
Stellan admits. "But give me
a break, I was fifteen at the time."

"I was fourteen," Hadleigh says.
"I didn't handle it very well."

"I'm not sure anyone handles
fourteen well," says Stellan.

Startled, Hadleigh laughs,
and for once it feels good and
natural instead of forced.

"Suddenly, I've discovered
a new life goal," Stellan muses.
"I want to make you laugh more."

Hadleigh decides that if she
wants more of his voice and
he wants more of her laugh,
then maybe they would be
good for each other after all,

and she finally realizes that
having a shitty life doesn't mean
being doomed to a shitty soulmate --

it means getting a soulmate who
understands having a shitty life.

In that moment, she peels off
her gloves and drops them in
the trash, then takes his hand.

The tail end of the line at
her elbow glitters faintly in
the sign of a settled bond.

It doesn't matter who sees
her Words now: after all,

they're only the truth.

* * *


Hadleigh Hightower -- She has golden-pale skin, gray eyes, and short shaggy black hair. She has a lip stud on her lower left lip. She is short and skinny with small breasts and narrow hips. Her heritage is American and a little Asian. She is 18 years old. Hadleigh likes emo fashion with a little goth. Her life has been difficult in a variety of ways, growing up in a trailer park with messy family dynamics. Her soulmark appeared at 14 and she hated it on sight, because it's melancholy and covers most of her forearm instead of being a discreet bracelet. She typically wore long sleeves or gloves to cover it. When Hadleigh finally met her soulmate Stellan Clare, though, she recognized her Words as a verse in a song. Despite her previously negative feelings, she liked Stellan and they got together. She is currently taking Office Studies at the local community college, which doesn't suit her at all, but does offer good employment prospects after graduation.

Hadleigh's soulmark (over most of her right forearm):
'Cause you can't jump the track,
we're like cars on a cable
And life's like an hourglass,
glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe ... just breathe

Her mother's soulmark:
I'm Luke Hightower. I'm here
to rescue you!

Her best friend Blinda's soulmark:
July 1, 2024, good morning.

Her little sister's soulmark:
Holy shit, it's you!

Stellan's soulmark (around his throat):
You're not half as stupid as I thought you'd be.

Stellan Clare -- He has tawny skin and brown eyes in a sweet heart-shaped face. His hair is brown, cut short and dyed jade green on top, with a short mustache and beard left brown. Both ears are pierced and he likes long dangly earrings. He is short and slim. His heritage is American and a little Asian. He is 19 years old. Stellan likes queer fashion with a little goth. His life has been challenging in various ways, especially bullies picking on him because of how he looks and acts. His soulmark appeared at 15 and really upset him, because it called him stupid and wrapped around his throat. He talked about it with a soul therapist, though, and found ways of coping. He still kept it covered until he met his soulmate. When Stellan finally met his soulmate Hadleigh Hightower, he realized that her Words were a verse from the melancholy song he'd been singing, and in light of that, her remark made perfect sense. Despite the previous complications, they liked each other and got together. Stellan is currently taking Liberal Studies with a Music minor at the local community college.

Stellan's soulmark (around his throat):
You're not half as stupid as I thought you'd be.

Hadleigh's soulmark (over most of her right forearm):
'Cause you can't jump the track,
we're like cars on a cable
And life's like an hourglass,
glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe ... just breathe

* * *

Series notes for Eloquent Souls

People have soulmates. They argue over whether each person has only one, or multiple possibilities. The truth is somewhere in between. Most people could connect with more than one person, while some are only compatible with one. Physicists have suggested that this relates to cosmic strings and paired atoms. Most people just think that some souls are made for each other and/or soulmates are two halves of the same soul.

Soulmates are consistently compatible. That doesn't mean it will necessarily be easy to form a relationship, but it will pan out if people put honest effort into it. The bond basically indicates a fundamental resonance between two souls, a complementary set of strengths, weaknesses, differences, and similarities that would be good for both people. It is quite common that soulmates fretting over some secret, such as being asexual or transgender, stutter their way to a confession only to discover that their partner is the same or at least otherwise a good match.

Soulmates are always capable of meeting, at least in theory. It used to be that they typically lived nearby, no farther than a day or so of travel; exceptions occurred, but attracted attention. The range has increased greatly in modern times as people travel around more, though, so it has become more common to bear marks in foreign languages or for potential soulmates who live quite far away.

A soulbond can take various forms. It is most often sexual/romantic, but it can be platonic, sensual, and so on. Some bonds even fluctuate, a trait most often seen in people with some other variable, such as genderflux.

The first words a soulmate will say appear on a person's skin, usually but not always in the soulmate's handwriting. Most often the soulmark appears on the wrist or arm, but it can be somewhere else. The most common colors are brownish or reddish, but other colors occasionally appear; and on dark skin, the mark is white or pastel for contrast. Bright colors appear most often on medium-toned skin where neither dark brown nor white would be easy to see. Blind people who can read Braille most often have their mark in raised bumps, sometimes no different than their skin tone.

Some people attempt to manipulate the soulmarks in hopes of making the connection easier to identify. It's hard if both partners have a common word or phrase. Uncommon ones are much easier to match up. Among other things, this leads to a lot of unique names and personal taglines, making introductions clearer.

Because of the compatibility aspect, a few people don't have soulmarks, or don't have one all the time. Children are sometimes born with one, sometimes not -- those who are tend to have strong enough traits to show that early. If a mark hasn't appeared by school age, parents start to worry.

A soulmark can't really be counterfeited; on close examination, they just look and feel different from tattoos. But some people without a soulmark, or one they hate, will get a tattoo in a different place as a decoy. This works as a general distraction, because most cultures consider it rude to stare at soulmarks, and a good enough tattoo will pass at anything beyond intimate distance.

The mark can change. This seems to happen more in modern times than in the past, perhaps due to the increasing pace of life, more frequent changes, and people moving around a lot more. Sometimes the phrasing changes but keeps the same handwriting; other times it switches to a different person altogether. Liminal times, like applying for multiple colleges at once, can cause the mark to "flicker" among many possibilities.

There can be more than one soulmark on the same person at the same time. Although uncommon, this seems to be increasing. People used to believe that in the case of multiple marks, only one would involve sex/romance, while the other(s) would be platonic. This has proved to be the case only some of the time, not all of the time.

If a soulmate dies before the first meeting, their mark on their unmet partner(s) will disappear and be replaced with a new soulmark from a different potential partner if available. When soulmates meet, their marks freeze and typically remain the same for the rest of their lives. A faint metallic sheen at the end of a settled soulmark distinguishes it from an unsettled but stable one. However, if the people somehow grow completely apart, the mark may fade. If a soulmate dies after meeting, the mark blurs toward the end as if smearing off into beyond.

It is uncommon, but not unheard of, for someone to gain a new soulmate after losing one. This is most likely when the survivor is young and/or they hadn't been together very long. Mothers with young children are also inclined to attract a new soulmate. The older the person is, the longer and deeper the bond, the less likely another will present.

Some cultures, such as Islam, consider soulmarks as intimate as genitals (or even more so) and always keep them covered. Others consider them signs from God or Fate that must be displayed for the best chance of finding soulmates. Some cultures hold that soulmarks should be bared before meeting and covered afterwards, or vice versa.

People have a lot of beliefs and superstitions about soulmarks. This raises suspicion about marks with unusual colors or script, in an uncommon place, or bearing unpleasant words. It can lead to hostility, even violence, against people with such "inappropriate" marks. The nature of a mark may also upset the bearer.

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