ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the July 2, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] avia.  It also fills the Rejection square in my card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest.  It has been sponsored by [personal profile] timescaper. This poem belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Throwing Souls Like So Much Clay"


Tierra Smith knows what it's like
feeling that you don't belong,
being rejected.

She's a poor black lesbian
from a working-class background.
She's short and fat and dumpy
with nappy black hair and brown eyes.
She's between homes at the moment,
couch-surfing or living on the streets.

It could have been any one of those things,
or all of them, that led to the beating --
Tierra never did discover which --
that left her with superpowers.
In a bitter twist of fate, they could
only affect others, not herself.

Now she is not just Tierra Smith but
the Sculptress, a supervillain
who breaks the social rules by
helping people in unapproved ways.

All she's ever done, all her superpowers could do,
is give people's bodies the shape of their spirits,
throwing souls like so much clay.

It's permanent, too, if the Sculptress works at it
hard enough and long enough.
She can make fat gals skinny and short guys tall.
She can make anyone prettier or handsomer,
take off freckles or put on dimples.

Sometimes it goes both ways:

There are men in women's bodies
and women in men's bodies
who need to be what they are
and not just what they were born.

There are black people
who want to pass for white, pleading
for pale skin and flowing golden hair --
and others who don't feel black enough,
who want their skin tinted darker
and their nap twisted tighter.

There are crooks who come to her
for a different face, saying
they want to turn over a new leaf.
This may or may not be so;
the Sculptress helps them regardless,
just in case it is true.

They cry on her, sometimes,
the ones who come to her
because they believe she can fix them.

The Sculptress listens,
because that's part of her power
even if it isn't the super part.

She hears them pour out their hearts,
how they feel like imposters
living a life they don't deserve,
no matter how much or how little
they've actually done to earn it.

She watches them weep over rejection,
lovers turned away, job applications overlooked,
college doors closed in their faces.
If only, they say, if only I looked different.
If only people could see the real me.
Then they would accept me
.

The Sculptress holds them close
and lets them cry on her shoulder.
She hands them kleenex, but
neither supports nor denies their beliefs.

Sometimes they are right.
Other times they are wrong,
and no amount of changing the flesh
can mend what's broken in the spirit.
Sometimes people can handle
what she does for them.
Other times they break themselves
with her perilous gifts.

This is something that
her mind reading cannot distinguish
and her transformation cannot repair,
so she does not speak of it
and lets people take
what chances she can give them.

She doesn't have any confidence
in herself or her skills or her powers.
She never has, but then,
she doesn't really need it either.
She just does what she can with what she has,
the same as always, because
it's not like society was ever going to approve.

It is said that the Sculptress does not care
what damage her superpowers can do,
and that this is why she is a villain.

Neither of these things are true.

The Sculptress cares deeply
about helping people, but also
about sticking it to The Man.

It's her way of scuffing over
some of the stupid lines people draw.
Let there be fat gals become thin,
black and brown folks walking around
in fair skin and perfect hair.
Let the bad guys have a second chance
and, just maybe, become good guys.

There are charges of vagrancy,
of aiding and abetting criminals,
of practicing medicine without a license.

What the authorities really mean
is that the Sculptress is uppity
and doing things that make it harder
for them to oppress people
or otherwise keep control
of the power and money they crave.

They'd kill her if they could,
or at least lock her up,
but she has friends on the street
and hardly anyone looks twice
at a poor black woman sitting on a sidewalk.

Of all the things people don't want to see,
villainy is a long way from the top of the list.


* * *

Notes:

"Tierra" comes from a list of "blackest and whitest names," the kind that can get your resume sorted into the circular file.

This character is an example of stacking traits: poor, black, homosexual, female, fat, unattractive, homeless. And then she gets a superpower that society doesn't like and uses it in ways that society doesn't approve, which is all the more alienating.

Bashing is a pervasive problem that spans both physical and verbal attacks on disempowered people. It happens a lot to those who are homosexual, black, and/or homeless but also other categories. So if you fit more than one, yes, it can be hard to tell why someone decided to beat the stuffing out of you unless they reveal their motive by screaming appropriate epithets.

Passing refers to people of one group presenting as some other identity. It is most often, though not exclusively, used in reference to mixed-race people passing as white. (Remember that race is a social construct, without crisp division in biological fact.) Afro-textured or nappy hair is among the features most fraught with ethnic identity and debate; people fight intensely over its phrasing and management. The question of being "black enough" relates not just to cultural identity but also access to certain scholarships, affirmative action, and other resources.

People often obsess over shedding particular traits in the mistaken belief that this will make everything okay; but nothing can fix them if the problem is endemic to their self-concept rather than actually attached to a removable trait. Often the difference doesn't show until a given trait changes, and the personality either adjusts with it or remains stuck.

Imposter syndrome is an identity issue in which people feel like frauds. There are ways to overcome this.

Sticking it to The Man is a phrase that encourages resistance to oppression. It can be constructive or destructive, often mixed.

The term "uppity" presupposes that individuals have a predestined place in the social hierarchy and that challenging this is wrong. It can refer to any instance of challenging the social order, but is most often used in reference to race and sex.

Social invisibility comprises the tendency to overlook the presence and accomplishments of people with traits outside the mainstream. For people trying to go unnoticed, this can be an advantage.

The Sculptress -- Tierra Smith is a poor black lesbian from a working-class background, currently homeless. She is short and fat with nappy black hair and brown eyes. Her superpower allows her to make permanent changes to someone else's body, aligning it with their inner self-image. The Sculptress can make fat people thin, dark skin light, male sex female -- or the reverse, or just about anything else. She can reshape faces and other body features. She is wanted for vagrancy, practicing medicine without a license, aiding and abetting criminals, and various other charges. However, people rarely pay attention to her because poor black women are all but invisible.
Origin: Tierra barely survived a beating; she couldn't even tell if the hooligans beat her up for being poor, black, homosexual, homeless, fat, female, or just there. She came out of the coma with a superpower -- but in a twist of bitter irony, it can only affect other people, not herself.
Uniform: Street clothes, literally, whatever she can find to wear while living on the street, so usually layers of mismatched rags.
Qualities: Expert Poorskillz, Good Friends on the Street, Good Hide and Sneak, Good Tough
Poor Fugitive
Powers: Master Transformation, Good Mind Reading
Motivation: Stick it to The Man by setting others free.

Tierra also has a small part in "That We Might Live" by [personal profile] chordatesrock.

Bravo

Date: 2013-07-17 01:29 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] timescaper
Great poem! Outstanding descriptions and imagery. The last two lines were really powerful. I appreciated all the notes as well. Lots of food for thought here.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-07-17 02:07 am (UTC)
sathonyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sathonyx
If this was an actual comic book, i would so read it

(no subject)

Date: 2013-07-17 04:33 pm (UTC)
raze: A man and a rooster. (Default)
From: [personal profile] raze
I really enjoyed this! I agree with the poster who said it'd make for an awesome comic book, and I like the thought of a morally gray superpower (that is presented as such).

(no subject)

Date: 2013-07-16 11:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janetmiles.livejournal.com
All she's ever done, all her superpowers could do,
is give people's bodies the shape of their spirits,
throwing souls like so much clay.

It's permanent, too, if the Sculptress works at it
hard enough and long enough.
She can make fat gals skinny and short guys tall.
She can make anyone prettier or handsomer,
take off freckles or put on dimples.


But, oh, what if someone's insides (she's a mindreader) don't match what they claim they want?

Sometimes they are right.
Other times they are wrong,
and no amount of changing the flesh
can mend what's broken in the spirit.
Sometimes people can handle
what she does for them.
Other times they break themselves
with her perilous gifts.


Oh. That's what happens. Brrr.


I like this one, even though it's not as cheerful as I'd thought it might be from the description. That's my error, though, for making assumptions.

Thoughts

Date: 2013-07-17 12:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> But, oh, what if someone's insides (she's a mindreader) don't match what they claim they want? <<

Sometimes she can tell that, and warn them; in which case it's up to the person whether or not to try anyway. Other times the difference is subjective in a way not perceptible to her, and nobody knows exactly why the result is unsatisfying. Being able to read someone's mind doesn't necessarily give a complete impression of their worldview; that depends on the nature of the mindreading talent, and hers doesn't go that far. It's enough to get an image, an idea of what's on the inside, but not always in the kind of detail needed to prevent mishaps.

Also, Tierra's gifts are the kind that don't come with a lot of fine control, but are more karmic in flavor. They do what they do. There are other soups in this world with more explicit control over their powers, and some with less.

>> Oh. That's what happens. Brrr. <<

Basically the Sculptress has the same problem as anyone else who works in the field of mindbody alteration. A woman can hire a plastic surgeon and still think she's ugly. A fat person can hire a weight-loss coach and still hate their body after dropping the pounds. A homosexual person can go to spiritual "gay cure" sessions and still feel damned. A person with mental issues can see a shrink and still be messed up. Sometimes it takes a combination of things -- such as changing appearance and changing thought patterns -- to produce satisfactory results. Other times nothing a person tries is effective. And some people abuse services meant to be helpful in ways that are harmful.

The main differences with the Sculptress are that:
* she has a deeper access to a person's inner nature, which can make the successes more striking and the failures more devastating,
* she's doing this with superpowers, so the results may go beyond what our science can achieve,
* and she's doing it outside of the gatekeeping organizations designed to protect -- and restrict -- consumers, which means there is both less oversight (like making sure someone is fully competent to decide) and less interference (meaning people get access to her help who wouldn't stand a chance in the official system).

This solve some problems and causes others. Tierra feels that people have a right to roll their own dice, and she's happy to give The System -- any system -- a poke in the eye because it's done fuckall for her.

>>I like this one, even though it's not as cheerful as I'd thought it might be from the description. That's my error, though, for making assumptions.<<

Do you think it would benefit from a warning, and if so, what kind? This is an edgy piece, and I'd rather not have people stumble into it unawares.

Possible warnings

Date: 2013-07-17 10:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] natalief.livejournal.com
Something about body image and/or dismorphism?

I loved this.
Edited Date: 2013-07-17 10:53 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-07-17 07:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chordatesrock.livejournal.com
Does she charge?

Does she affect ability status, one way or the other?

Does she outright change race, or just shift mixed-race people one way or another?

Do her powers require consent?

Don't people's friends and families notice the change? Isn't that awkward?

Can she hide the appearance of something without hiding all of it? For example, could she change the face of a person with Down syndrome without changing the other aspects?

Conversely, could she leave visible markers of disability untouched while improving function?

I'm unclear on whether she makes people's outsides match the insides because that's all the power can do, or whether that's how she chooses to use a more general power to reshape people.

Thank you!

Date: 2013-07-29 06:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I have saved these for possible future use.

>> Does she charge? <<

She'll certainly take money or resources if offered, but it's not a priority as it is for some characters. She's used to scrounging, and more interested in getting the job done.

>> Does she affect ability status, one way or the other? <<

She can.

>> Does she outright change race, or just shift mixed-race people one way or another? <<

Race can be changed, although it's far more often a shift of mixed-race people. It's rare for someone to identify with a race where they share absolutely no common heritage. But race is a social construct, not biological; most of the pieces are there in every human.

>> Do her powers require consent? <<

I'm not sure about that one.

>> Don't people's friends and families notice the change? Isn't that awkward? <<

Yes, they do notice. Some are accepting, others not -- just like when people get tattoos, or sexual realignment surgery, or a new church, etc.

>> Can she hide the appearance of something without hiding all of it? For example, could she change the face of a person with Down syndrome without changing the other aspects? <<

That one's trickier, but probably so, if it's how a person feels they should be.

>> Conversely, could she leave visible markers of disability untouched while improving function? <<

Probably, if those aren't connected on practical levels. Leaving the appearance of cataracts while granting good vision would be hard. Raising intelligence while leaving the physical features of Down syndrome would be easier, although the most straightforward fix would be removing the extra chromosome.

>> I'm unclear on whether she makes people's outsides match the insides because that's all the power can do, or whether that's how she chooses to use a more general power to reshape people. <<

It's because that's how her power works. There is some flexibility, because people's self-concept is rarely rigid. But the power only rolls downhill, toward a person's true nature as they perceive it.

Take the face-sculpting for instance, Dr. Infanta has more leeway there and can create the face she or her client desires, within the range of her skill. The Sculptress can only create variations within the theme of how people see themselves. People may be pleased or displeased with either application of power.

"Stacked" can be awesome!

Date: 2014-04-07 03:14 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
It's nearly impossible for me to recall many characters in mainstream entertainment who have stacked, negative traits. The last was the reboot of Ironside, where the original white, paraplegic detective was played by an African-American paraplegic. It lasted FOUR episodes, blast it.

Y'know what the real freaking pity was? I liked the ACTOR, and didn't care one WHIT what color his skin happened to be. Yes, it shaped his behavior and speech and humor, but it was just one part of who he was on screen.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-18 05:01 am (UTC)
alexseanchai: Purple lightning (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai
What the authorities really mean
is that the Sculptress is uppity
and doing things that make it harder
for them to oppress people
or otherwise keep control
of the power and money they crave.


YES

Re: *laugh*

Date: 2014-05-18 05:05 am (UTC)
alexseanchai: Purple lightning (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai

Nodnod!

(no subject)

Date: 2015-09-01 10:42 pm (UTC)
ext_12246: (light bulb)
From: [identity profile] thnidu.livejournal.com
AHH!

Oh, I appreciate Tierra! And only now, after reading the intro and the story and the notes and all the comments, and returning to the top of the page, do I understand this "throwing" correctly. Very precisely phrased, milady.

Profile

ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
ysabetwordsmith

April 2017

S M T W T F S
       1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 242526272829
30      

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags