ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem belongs to the series Love Is For Children which includes "Love Is for Children," "Hairpins," "Blended," "Am I Not," "Eggshells," "Dolls and Guys,""Saudades," "Querencia," "Turnabout Is Fair Play," "Touching Moments," "Splash," "Coming Around," "Birthday Girl," "No Winter Lasts Forever," "Hide and Seek," "Kernel Error," "Happy Hour," and "Green Eggs and Hulk."

Fandom: The Avengers
Characters: Natasha Romanova, Clint Barton, Phil Coulson, Nick Fury, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes
Medium: Poetry
Warnings: Past abuse. Broken people. Fugitive. Isolation. Internalized oppression. Low sense of self-worth. Self-destructive behavior. Shame. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Betrayal. Trust issues. Jealousy. Sibling rivalry. Emotional whump. Communication issues. Boundary issues.
Summary: Black Widow meets Hawkeye and Agent Coulson, and eventually moves into Avengers Tower. She learns to see the beauty in broken things.
Notes: Hurt/Comfort. Mercy. Freedom. Good and evil. Family of choice. Team as family. Trauma and recovery. Healing. Friendship. Love. Nonsexual intimacy. Nonsexual ageplay. No sex. Asexual character. Aromantic character. Asexual relationship. Siblings. Trust. Memory. Safety and security. Competence. #coulsonlives

This story spans the time from when Natasha first met Clint and Phil, through their service at SHIELD, the Battle of New York, the advent of game night, finding Bucky, and slowly settling into life in the tower. It also fills the "glass" square in my 3-30-14 card for the [community profile] cottoncandy_bingo fest.

A note on feedback: While it's not necessary to comment on every post I make, remember that I don't know who reads/likes things if nobody says anything. Particularly on long stories, I've discovered that I get antsy if there's nothing but crickets chirping for several posts. So it helps to give me feedback at least once, even if it's just "I like this" or "This one doesn't grab me." First and last episodes are ideal if you rarely feel inspired to comment in the middle.

Anonymous commenters: You don't have to specify exactly who you are, but it helps to have a first name or a username from some other service, so I have some idea of who's saying which and how many different "Anonymous" folks there are. You can just type some kind of identifier at the end of your comment.

Next up will be "Little, and Broken, But Still Good" which reveals how a little boy named Flip grows up to become Agent Coulson who saves the world a lot.

(Also the perk story "Brotherlove, Brotherlust" is still open for audience activity to reveal new material; see Part 1 and Part 2.)


Natasha's broken,
has been broken for years --
chips and cracks and stains --
her mind is a shattered vase,
and her body damaged goods.

She is so tired
of the hunting and killing,
running and hiding,
all to no higher purpose
than staying alive -- for what?

She just wants to stop,
even if it means her death --
perhaps, especially then --
so she lets him close on her,
the archer with steady hands.

Natasha is stunned
by the arrow that pierces
her arm, not her heart,
its aim precise as ever,
its meaning inscrutable.

She can't understand
why Hawkeye doesn't kill her,
why he touches her
ragged edges so gently,
holds her like something fragile.

She can't imagine
why Coulson would speak for her,
why his words wrap her
in soft gauze like bandages,
treat her like something precious.

Natasha's confused,
who is used to everything
being crisp and clear,
target centered in crosshairs,
line of red drawn across throat.

Everything is wrong --
alive, not dead; free, not owned --
but she does not know
who she is or what she is
or how to fix what's broken.

The two men take her
and fit the shards of herself
each to the other,
sealing the shattered fragments
tenderly back together.

Natasha's whole now,
or as close as she can get --
she knows the cracks show,
and the rust-red stains that won't
wash away no matter what.

She has a new life,
new names and faces to wear,
and new friends as well,
a chance to fight, still shadowed,
but facing now toward the light.

Her ledger is fresh,
though gushing with older red;
there are black lines now,
written in her careful hand
as she balances accounts.

Natasha is shocked
when she hears the fateful words --
"Barton's compromised" --
but she doesn't hesitate
and she holds back not at all.

So she tracks him down
and she kicks him in the head.
She knows that some things
must be broken before they
can be mended and made whole.

She knows how it hurts
when pouring molten metal
into a cracked heart
but her hands are steady now
as his hands once were for her.

Natasha's weary
after the mighty battle,
gathering with friends,
grateful to have her partner back
but mourning their handler's loss.

When Coulson comes back
alive, somewhat worse for wear,
Natasha knows that
Fury has broken away
another piece of her trust.

She does not think that
it's so easily repaired
as fine porcelain.
She knows the cracks will always
show even if it's mended.

Natasha's puzzled
at first by Steve's insistence
on fixing old things
instead of buying new ones,
but in time she understands

This is his way of
making a difference at home,
as he does outside,
taking the imperfections
and showing what they could be.

Seams, zippers, buttons --
he knows how to put them right.
The patches he makes
are embroidered into place,
colorful and compelling.

Natasha's surprised
when Phil proposes game night
but she is willing
to try whatever he asks
because he's so often right.

She learns to drop down
the long tunnel of herself
on a shining thread,
an itsy-bitsy spider
going down a waterspout.

She finds Natka there,
leads herself into the light,
and learns how to play.
She never knew childhood
could be so simple, or so hard.

Natasha is numb
when they first identify
the Winter Soldier,
so she just lets her instincts
carry her through the battle.

Later, she struggles
with memories of her own
as his start to thaw.
She recalls how hard it is
from the times they shared before.

She knew him -- knows him --
and will not give up again
until he is whole
as she is whole now, showing
always the shiny repairs.

Natasha's startled
by Clint's sudden jealousy,
sniping at Bucky --
they have so much in common,
but they don't know how to share.

She doesn't know how
to teach them that, but maybe
Phil will know a way.
Slowly it works itself out,
two and two becoming three.

She recalls a rhyme:
Make new friends but keep the old;
One is silver and
The other's gold
. They are glass,
held together by mettle.

Natasha's stubborn,
like a witch counting mustard;
she won't stop until
she has picked up every piece,
even the smallest splinters.

It does not matter
how long the project may take --
weeks or months or years,
she will see it through with them,
as has been done for her too.

She fixes her friends
the way she fixes herself,
the way they fixed her,
silver fondness and gold love,
heated, broken, beautiful.

Natasha's happy,
determined to find some grace
in her battered life,
holding a patchwork pillow
that Steve has mended for her.

In her apartment,
she has a Japanese bowl
with gold and silver
veined through shattered ceramic,
more precious now for its flaws.

These are things that she
would like to learn how to do
not breaking people
but repairing broken things
to bring out hidden beauty.

* * *


Kintsukuroi or kintsugi is a Japanese craft of repairing broken pottery. Traditionally it is done with resin mixed with powdered gold or silver. Pottery may also be mended by pouring molten metal into cracks, pressing in nuggets or strips of metal, or using metal staples.

The verses of this poem are written in tanka, a classic Japanese form.

Feeling broken is a natural response to betrayal or abuse. It is important to acknowledge the feeling in order to overcome it.

"Damaged goods" is a vulgar phrase used to denigrate survivors of sexual abuse or women who choose to have sex before marriage. It often becomes a form of internalized oppression.

Depression may have biological, psychological, and/or circumstantial causes. Any or all of those could apply to Natasha. There are ways to cope with depression or help a depressed friend.

Suicidal ideation includes not just thoughts of killing oneself but also contemplating other ways that end in death. Although canon varies, the general implication is that Natasha let SHIELD catch up to her. Understand how to deal with suicidal thoughts or support a friend who is thinking about death. While some situations may be insoluble, and some people genuinely have no resources, most of the time life has potential to improve and that's worth pursuing.

Emotional wounds may result from psychological abuse or other trauma. They need to be acknowledged to heal. Know how to help a friend recover from emotional abuse.

Living with regret due to past mistakes is a natural part of human experience. People can change and put their mistakes behind them. Work toward forgiveness in order to overcome serious regrets.

Some religions, such as Hinduism and Islam, hold that good deeds can make up for bad deeds. While it is not always possible to repair the harm done, it is possible to become a better person. Canon indicates that Natasha takes a very practical approach to atonement, likening it to a ledger.

Trust is easily broken, but not easily repaired. It takes time for people to rebuild trust after betraying someone or to regain trust in someone who betrayed them. There are many examples in canon of SHIELD in general, and Nick Fury in particular, behaving in untrustworthy ways. An effective team requires trust, so Phil has had a lot of extra work to do, and Fury is so not helping with that.

Boro is a type of Japanese folk art that involves repairing fabric in aesthetic ways. It's a basic poor skill around the world, though, and something Steve would plausibly have learned growing up in the Depression.

"The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" is a favorite children's song. Listen to it on YouTube.

Alexithymia is a condition of feeling numb, which can be caused by emotional neglect or other things. It may be a symptom of depression. Natasha has it because she was trained not to feel anything, so her mood tends to be very level and she has trouble identifying her emotions. There are steps to overcome emotional numbness, and charting feelings can help.

There is an old folk belief that witches and other evil creatures can be thwarted by scattering mustard seed, which they must count before they can cross it.

Natasha's pillow came from India, made from a patchwork of scarlet silk sari fabric. If you're trying to blend in, you do what the people around you are doing, and tourists tend to go shopping. I figure Natasha picked this up while hunting Bruce in Kolkata, and decided to keep it. Patchwork cushions are beautiful and easy to make by hand or on a sewing machine.

Natasha's bowl looks something like this. Imagine that it was broken and repaired with gold like that, then later broken again and repaired with silver. Here is a typical kintsukuroi repair kit.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-28 01:32 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is beautiful.


(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-28 02:43 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
>>They are glass,
held together by mettle.<<

Lump in throat. This is beautiful.

I like poetry where I don't notice the format. Tanka often does that - it's a lovely structure, and one I find very easy to read.

Thinking about this for an hour or more

Date: 2014-05-28 04:27 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
--just to figure out exactly what is different about the form.

It's the Japanese tanka format; likely my first conscious exposure to that particular style. (Even my honors English classes /only/ referred to haiku, and no other non-English poetry styles, while spending over a month of classes (as in, six weeks of class blocks) on the sonnet alone.)

So I have been digging and comparing and just /reveling/ in the new form. Thank you for creating an example I would already know and be inclined to like in a form that is more than novel-- it has power and energy of its own, and interacts in new ways with the words it holds.

On the topic, and individual lines-- I think my favorite line is "like a witch counting mustard"... first, because my brain had to jump in with "seeds. Mustard SEEDS,"and it had been pretty much totally sucked into the universe until then. But the 'interruption' wasn't negative, more like catching one's breath.

You've actually done a better job characterizing Natasha here than in the movies. This is someone subtle, but strong in ways that really don't show well in the mega-action movie genre.

Thanks for posting.

Re: Thinking about this for an hour or more

Date: 2014-05-29 12:46 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
>> Agreed. The same is true of Phil, in different ways. I think the best characterization of him was in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer." It was so brief, yet it highlighted his gentle nature, his compassion, his BAMF nature, his competence, and his ability to think outside the box. Phil is a supernary; that's how he can hold his own next to superheroes. <<

Amen, and I've already unpacked that short film, in a reply to one of your story segments, in fact.

To actually bring this 'round to topic, what poetic form do you think would work best for describing Coulson? Would it be in tanka format, or something else?

Because as much as I love fiction in general, you're doing something /different/ with poetry, so why not include that in your Avengers fanfiction?

(sorry about misposting this under the wrong topic. Fixed now.)

Re: Thinking about this for an hour or more

Date: 2014-09-02 03:46 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
I'd recommend blank verse. Structured, but not to the point of excessive rigidity, with a simple pattern that can be altered to surprise or balanced to build up.

Considering monsters in lore

Date: 2014-09-02 03:42 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
I'm half-tempted to write about trapping a witch with mustard spread.

Counting seeds is an OCD thing; I've noticed many evil creatures in European folklore have an emotional behavior/disregulation attached to them, and obsessive counting or cleanliness is OCD (witches, vampires). Wild reactivity or deadly attraction is werewolves and sometimes yeti (abuse/trauma response, or jealousy/rivalry -- essentially passion out of control).

Asian folklore describes spirits, but when corrupted by Catholic Church influences, spirits and gods tend to turn into either demons or saints... so Western interpretations of oni, kami, and other suchlike are unreliable. Chinese lore in particular is so poorly known outside the region that the few examples I have are too brief to really form a solid impression. Thankfully, the Japanese are reasonably happy to share their culture with us clueless barbarians, so some details have been leaking for a long time.

NA folklore tends to describe things as they are; the storytelling seems more lesson-oriented or animal-focused, but I blame that more on a survivalist culture met with an appropriative culture -- some things non-physical have been lost, and so it seems like the point was to observe animals as they are and not as we wish them to be. That said, there are some really awesome spirits/monsters to be found -- but with few flaws of their own, just specific obsessions or behaviors which don't add up to a whole... unless you consider the Buddhist concept of "preta", hungry souls obsessed with a particular thing to fulfill a damaged life need. Australian aboriginal lore seems to get much more into spirits and their natures/behaviors without needing to focus on physical properties as much.

I'm not sure about Polynesian folklore, but spirits and particularly gods seem to be prominent.

Then there are worldwide phenomena. Dragons, unicorns, gryphons/rocs (I'm pretty sure farmemory marks these two as the same thing), and so on. Some beings appear to have similar properties everywhere, marked by local culture.

... but all that says little about what I wanted to express. Getting back to the witch trapped by mustard: spill a jar of mustard spread, then give her a pack of flimsy tissues to clean it up with. Cleanliness obsession kicks in, and smears that mustard everywhere, shredding tissues along the way. And then there's nowhere to put the messy things! oh noes! Is that the watchman coming down the road?
Edited (forgot to finish my thought) Date: 2014-09-02 03:44 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-28 06:41 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I like this a lot.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-28 07:03 pm (UTC)
somecrazygirl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] somecrazygirl
Kintsukuroi is an extremely appropriate metaphor for Natasha.

This is quite lovely.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-28 09:58 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was gorgeous. I love all the little details that you weave in, especially the form that you've used.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-29 02:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
From the very first line, I was hoping that you'd bring up Kintsukuroi - not that I remembered the name, but I knew of the art of mending using gold, and it seemed perfect. And then you did. Lovely.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-29 02:47 am (UTC)
brushwolf: Icon created by ScaperDeage on DeviantArt (Default)
From: [personal profile] brushwolf
With suicide it's like nearly everything else; do not, I repeat do not, go to the police. If you are feeling suicidal go to someone trustworthy and helpful. The police response to a suicidal person is to assume you might take someone else out on the way, and they will respond accordingly. Policemen are great at perceiving threats but they are not good at de-escalating situations. Please help yourself, please don't put yourself in a worse emotional emergency than you were already facing, by trusting these people. Call the suicide prevention line or your shrink or social worker or anyone else.

Difficulties with Poetry

Date: 2014-05-29 08:35 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
First, I will say that I enjoy Love Is For Children. A lot of character interpretations have become my headcannon for those characters. Your writing is very clear, often thought-provoking, and lets me learn new things. And I love to learn new things.

Confession time, I very seldom even attempt to read poetry. I don't know why but it very rarely grabs me and immerses me the way prose does. Most of what does tends to be extremely short - haiku short - and only trying to invoke a single image or emotion. Longer pieces trying to tell a story tend to make my imagination feel like we are trying to read a story with half the pages missing or seeing a movie trailer but not the film because it was never completed.

But occasionally, if an author has written the rare poem that does grab me or I like their writing, I at least give their poetry a try. Since I like your writing, I gave it a try.

Like the imagery of the kintsukuroi - it is very apt for Natasha (or the Avengers in general), liked many of the individual verses, but as a whole . . . Alas. #sighes* Sorry. Maybe I should try to trick myself into thinking this a bunch of little poems instead of one big one. That might work.

I'll keep trying. That any of it speaks me means that one of your poems will likely make it through the gauntlet some day.

Re: Difficulties with Poetry

Date: 2014-05-30 02:57 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thanks. I read poems you linked to in the earlier comment on your suggestion and I liked them. The Truffle one made me smile. So am adding indriso to my list of "types of poetry I can enjoy."

Also I don't recall hearing about indriso in previous English or Lit classes so you get a Learned Something New bonus.

Shape poetry looked interesting and that website has been bookmarked for further exploration.

Again, thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-30 06:22 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I love this, its wonderful. It makes me want to hug her, though I doubt she'd let me. :P


(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-29 08:27 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Your poetry doesn't always work for me (your prose on the other hand I always love), but I'm a huge fan of this one. It reads nicely and captures Natasha very well.

I'll admit I didnt get the mustard reference until I read the comments though, my mind went to the buddist dharma about death instead.

(I'm Anna Libertas pretty much everywhere)

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-08-05 02:50 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
>>Ah, I like the dharma idea too.

It's one of my favorites, which is probably part of why my brain jumped there first : ) I have a wonderful version of it written by Rumi that my dad gave me & it's definitely made an impression on me

>>That's okay. One thing that fascinates me is how my DW audience favors fiction while the LJ audience is all about poetry.

I'm very much a poetry fan, when I find poetry I enjoy, but if I can't get into the flow of it, then I just won't enjoy it. Even my favorite poets can be hit or miss at times (with the exception of Basso, who I like pretty much universally)

--Anna Libertas

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-23 06:55 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
I have a lot of autistic!Natasha headcanons, and this all just brought them back up--the ledger, because when the world just *is* then you can restore balance, the way she sees the world as what it is without much emotional attachment...

I mean this is like the third time I've read this, this is just jumping out at me this time. The theme of beauty in repair...that one is a lot more personal, but just as welcome. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-13 03:47 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Returning to this favorite on a day when I really needed to read it. It made my day so much better. Thank you, Ysabet, for all the work you do to make your characters people, and often in just a few words, it's inspiring. Your words are kintsugi, you know? - Kelly

(no subject)

Date: 2016-11-07 09:50 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
Tanka has been one of my favorite poetic forms since I discovered it, which was ... at least 20 years ago.

The link for Natasha's Pillow goes to an "account suspended" message. Might you be able to add it to your photostream from a saved copy? *hopeful look*

Wonderful story-poem! <3 <3 <3


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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