ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the September 3, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "group dynamics" square in my Wordsmith Bingo card. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.


"Needled"


Keane

I need the pain
to be here,
to stay focused
so I can think things through.

The tattoo is a logical choice.
It's slow and safe,
an intricate tracery of lines
around my right thigh.

It's funny in a way,
because my own skin
would be too dark to show the ink,
but this body has a paler tint
so it works.

So much is going on,
all the time,
and a lot of it hurts,
which is my job to handle.

I need time.
I need to make plans.
I need the pain.

----------

Maze

I go through my classes
with a nagging itch on one leg
and I have no idea why --
I haven't gotten into
anything like nettles or poison ivy
and if it was something in my clothes
then surely I'd be itching all over.

When I get home,
I go into the bathroom to look,
and there on my thigh
I find lines of fine black ink.

When did I get a tattoo?

I don't remember doing this,
and that's terrifying.
It must have been one of the others,
making changes to the body
that everyone has to live with.

I press my fingers to the raw skin,
and the itch becomes a sting.
Tears well up in my eyes,
and I really don't want to deal with this.

Just like that, there's a gentle voice
in the back of my head
murmuring that I don't have to,
that all I need to do is let go
and he'll take care of it.

So I do.

----------

Clement

I look at the tattoo,
and remember from my first aid training
that it's supposed to be cared for,
but that's about all I know.

I pat my pockets,
searching for a care sheet,
but there's nothing in my pants
or the buttoned flap of my blouse.

So I search online for instructions,
and there are plenty of them,
some of which conflict with the others.

I make my best guess,
clean the skin carefully
and smooth lotion over it,
then leave it open to the air.

This is what I do best,
taking care of people,
but I'm pissed at Keane
for making it necessary.

I know it's his fault --
it has to be --
because he's the one
who likes pain.

All right,
maybe I'm sulking a bit.
I still don't like this.

----------

Mira

I like this,
even though it's not
my idea or entirely my body.

I trace along the edges,
not touching the fresh ink,
just admiring the delicate lines
that hint at a lace garter.

The circumference is there,
top and bottom defined, and
one section the width of my finger
filled in with minute loops.

From the level of detail in that bit,
this thing will take forever to finish.
I wonder what it will look like
when it's finally done.

That thought makes Clement
fume all the more,
and Maze isn't happy either.

I don't like arguments.
They make me want to hide.

----------

Ham

I have to come out,
because my headmates
are getting steamed at each other
and it's my job to protect people
even from ourselves.

Honestly, I don't see
what all the fuss is about --
it's just a tattoo, right? --
until I see what it's a tattoo of
and then I'm sizzling
right along with Maze and Clement
because it's lace, damn it,
on a body that houses three men,
and we can't take it off.

So I go to the gym
to work off the energy
built up by simmering anger.

Jogging with a fresh tattoo:
not so much fun.

I switch to knife work:
lunges are even less fun.

Hitting the heavy bag is easier,
all arms and very little footwork required.

Something tells me
that Keane will just keep doing this,
screwing up what the rest of us
can do with the body,
and I just don't know
what to do about that.

I set it aside,
focus on keeping my headmates
from brawling with each other
and give the heavy bag
a beating it probably doesn't deserve.

----------

Clarity

Everyone is in an uproar
over what Keane has done.

I thought it would get easier
once we knew about each other,
but it hasn't -- it's gotten harder
because now we have
someone to blame
for the blackouts and the bruises,
the cryptic notes and the blasted tattoo.

Now we have arguments
because one headmate needled another,
or every other, or did something
that set us taking sides.

We have to get along somehow
because we're stuck in here
so we'd better start learning the ropes.

I go for the notebook
to write down my observations,
and there where nobody thought to look

I find Keane's entry about the tattoo,
complete with the care sheet
and where to find the tattoo cream
on the top shelf of the medicine chest,
and his notes on how much it hurts
to have our life hacked apart like this.

There's a copy, too,
of Clement's complaint
about self-harm and how
slamming our hands in a drawer
is not a long-term solution.

Below that is a list
of pros and cons for other options.

With a sigh, I add
upsets other headmates
to the "con" box for tattoos.

We need to learn
better communication skills,
and that's my job

but I hardly know what to do next.

----------

Maze

A week after the beginning
of the Tattoo Dispute
I come back to myself
with a familiar itch
fresh on my thigh.

Keane is such a pain.
All he ever does is
make this harder by
hurting us and stirring up trouble.

But there's Clarity
in the back of my head,
of our head, chanting,
Notebook. Notebook. Notebook.
So I go check our collective journal.

Paperclipped to Keane's entry
is the care sheet for Clement
and under that page,
an apology and explanation
that I just don't want to deal with.

Still, I sneak a peek at the tattoo
before I let Clement come out
to take care of it.

There against faint tan of my skin
is the sketchy hilt of a knife
stuck through the garter,
and below the rim of lace,
no bigger than my fingernail,
a charm of a theatrical mask.

* * *

Notes:

Pain can influence state of consciousness. Masochists may seek it for stress relief. A less healthy version manifests in self-harm, one of the first things Keane tried as a way to feel better and gain control. Athletes may learn to tolerate pain as part of the game. Many people bite their lips to focus concentration, which is very close to what Keane does, although this too is a bad habit with definite drawbacks.

Tattooing can be a safer approach. Some people get tattoos despite the pain, because they want an image or even a souvenir; and using tattoos for emotional relief is not rare. Other people enjoy the pain itself, and there are even questions about whether tattoos can be addictive. There are tips for dealing with the pain.

After getting a tattoo, some people regret it, temporarily or permanently. This is especially challenging if it wasn't your idea in the first place, as with the rest of Damask. The aftercare instructions do vary, which can be confusing and frustrating.

Internal family systems are a bit like multiple personalities, but without the sharp breaks that allow things to slip between the cracks. This is what I call an "aspected" personality, where the facets are distinct yet still connected along the edges. Here are some of the roles that may appear. Multiple personalities sometimes emerge due to trauma, as a defense mechanism.

Scapegoating is a psychological process in which one person or headmate takes on the burden of everyone's problems. In multiple personalities, the system scapegoat serves this purpose. Keane is not bad, it's just that he deals with a lot of dark stuff, his methods bug the other headmates, and they really don't appreciate yet how much good he's doing. Scapegoating is particularly common in cases of bereavement, which relates to what happened with Maisie getting chopped into several pieces. There are ways to overcome the scapegoat role.

The motif of a lace garter makes a popular tattoo, often with something stuck through it.  Here's one of a knife, although it's in color while Damask's is black-and-white.  The knife in Damask's tattoo is plainer, like this practical blade.  The lace part is very frilly and feminine, like this garter with many closed loops.  The theatrical mask looks something like this charm.

Blinkin' difficult to read!

Date: 2014-04-15 11:49 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
-- This is so very like what my friend(s) are going through right now. It hurts so much to not be able to ACTUALLY help, even as a possible mediator, because everything they have to work out is all quite literally internal.

Lovely, lovely compromise on the artwork, but I hope quite a lot that they don't end up taking Keene's perspective for granted, and end up abusing him or neglecting his needs. It feels like they're standing right on the verge of doing so, even at the end of the poem.

Thanks for writing it.

Re: Blinkin' difficult to read!

Date: 2014-04-16 02:32 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
>> This kind of challenge just isn't something that can be overcome quickly. Maisie was young even before all this started, so there's not a great deal of life experience to go around. The creation of the system was a violent intrusion. That takes time to heal. It's going to hurt for a while before it gets better.<<

Oh, I fully agree that you're working from where they *are*, rather than the ideal. I was just commenting on the way you've positioned things.

It's very well done, but that cliffhanger feeling was part of the "worry". LOL.

Re: Blinkin' difficult to read!

Date: 2014-04-16 04:55 am (UTC)
thnidu: blank white robot/avatar sitting on big red question mark. tinyurl.com/cgkcqcj via Google Images (question mark)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
An interesting and challenging chapter.

• It does get better as the series progresses. Far ahead as it goes to day is Christmas, so that's ... what, about five months or so since a major trauma.
> Does not compute parse. Did you mean that as of today [no space], you've written the story only as far as Christmas?

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-16 01:39 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
The scapegoat is basically the omega troop position (not pack as in canines, troop as in primates). The group wouldn't function without someone to put all the bad things on, so they keep one around. If the omega leaves or dies, eventually something bad happens and the troop chooses a new omega to scapegoat for the badness so the rest of them can survive better.

This is something I consider a maladaptive survival trait, and creatures who are scapegoated rarely achieve their best. The extra stress just breaks things for the individual in favor of preserving the group. There are better ways to live.

Thoughts

Date: 2014-04-16 01:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> The scapegoat is basically the omega troop position (not pack as in canines, troop as in primates). <<

Yes, that makes sense.

>> The group wouldn't function without someone to put all the bad things on, so they keep one around. If the omega leaves or dies, eventually something bad happens and the troop chooses a new omega to scapegoat for the badness so the rest of them can survive better. <

Prevailingly true, and yet people don't realize this.

>> This is something I consider a maladaptive survival trait, and creatures who are scapegoated rarely achieve their best. <<

It's maladaptive more often than positive, at least.

>> The extra stress just breaks things for the individual in favor of preserving the group. <<

Often true. However, the individual usually can't survive without some kind of group, which is reason to participate.

>> There are better ways to live. <<

If you know what those are and are permitted access. Many people aren't that lucky.

In this case, we have a group of traumatized college kids stuck in one body with powers they don't understand. They can't separate. Due to the nature of their creation, they also can't merge back into a single person. So they have to figure out how to get along, somehow. Think about what you've seen in group houses at college. It's not going to be a smooth ride.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-31 09:56 pm (UTC)
pinkrangerv: White Hispanic female, with brown hair, light skin, and green eyes, against a background of blue arcane symbols (Default)
From: [personal profile] pinkrangerv
...Wow. I'm suddenly so, so glad my brain tends to try to fix problems instead of creating new ones.

Re: Well...

Date: 2014-11-01 02:51 am (UTC)
pinkrangerv: White Hispanic female, with brown hair, light skin, and green eyes, against a background of blue arcane symbols (Default)
From: [personal profile] pinkrangerv
*winces* Oh, *that*. Yeah, I know that one...

Yikes. Poor Keane! I have this urge to tell them all to be nicer to their brother...:p

Re: Well...

Date: 2014-11-01 03:04 am (UTC)
pinkrangerv: White Hispanic female, with brown hair, light skin, and green eyes, against a background of blue arcane symbols (Default)
From: [personal profile] pinkrangerv
I always get stuck when that happens. I'm learning enough to start getting UNstuck, but it's still difficult. Ngl, tattooing isn't what I'd have thought of; I'd have gone with mild enough self-harm to leave no marks or injuries (pinching with sharp nails usually gets the job done; it's like a quick route to the part of the brain activated by self-harm, without causing damage). But it's a good reminder, too, of where they've been--and someday where they'll be when Keane can (hopefully) find a new focus.

Guys, be nice to your brother! *shakes finger*

Re: Well...

Date: 2014-11-01 03:17 am (UTC)
pinkrangerv: White Hispanic female, with brown hair, light skin, and green eyes, against a background of blue arcane symbols (Default)
From: [personal profile] pinkrangerv
XD I've tried that. Logic seems to work better when I have no\little inspiration, though, and inspiration drives me a lot. I tend to think my way out more now. I've found that usually when I get stuck, it means I'm missing information and need to get it.

Yay! Safe is good. Especially given Keane's power...

It is really pretty, and really awesome. A dagger hidden in lace...*swoon* (Just started knitting lace. A dagger pattern would be hellishly hard to do, but oh, the *symbolism*...)

XD

(Also, since I can't comment there: DAMASK!!!!!)

Re: Well...

Date: 2014-11-01 03:37 am (UTC)
pinkrangerv: White Hispanic female, with brown hair, light skin, and green eyes, against a background of blue arcane symbols (Default)
From: [personal profile] pinkrangerv
Darkness is as important as light.

*dies laughing* the pink-and-yellow one in the first link really does NOT look like the kind of dagger I'm talking about...:p But thank you for the links!

Yeah, I just tend to screw up reply chains with anon comments. Emails help me keep track of what I'm doing. (I love computers, they make up for my brain being totally off the rails. :p)

Re: Well...

Date: 2015-09-02 01:42 am (UTC)
thnidu: painting: a girl pulling a red wagon piled almost to her own height of books along a sidewalk (books)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk's flight
On the empty sky.

—The Creation of Éa
[Earthsea]

Ursula K. Le Guin

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/930-only-in-silence-the-word-only-in-dark-the-light

lagniappe

Date: 2016-09-24 12:16 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
The more of Polychrome Heroics that I read, the more fascinated I am. Huzzah!

I am continually impressed by the "Notes" sections, especially the ones provided for the Polychrome series. The sheer *work* involved in putting such together is significant, I know! I am profoundly grateful that you offer so many notes/links, and I often check out several from any particular piece of writing. The vast majority have been extremely helpful and/or educational. Mille grazie!

I'd like to give a particular shout-out to one link in this poem, the one about "overcoming the scapegoat role". The ephiphany it sparked, the validation of experience, and the clear, coherent advice given, are pearls beyond price.

Thank you!!

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