ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the November 4, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] stardreamer, and LJ user My_partner_doug. It also fills the "insomnia" square on my 7-31-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. These include nausea, insomnia, mention of past rape (current environment is safe), choice paralysis, social anxiety, and other challenges. If these are sensitive topics for you, please consider your headspace before deciding whether to read further.

"A Canvas for Reinvention"


The sound of retching wakes me up,
brings me stumbling out of bed at 2:14 A.M.

Mallory's in the bathroom again, door shut,
light a razor crack along the threshold.

I pad downstairs to make a cup
of the tummy tea that I brought home
from a trip to Wholesome Joe's.

By the time I get back to the landing,
Mallory is curled in a miserable ball
on the futon, light still on.

When I set the cup of tea on the coffee table,
she startles. "What are you doing up?"

"Taking care of you, if you'll let me," I say.
"I'm a light sleeper; the sound woke me up."
Ham is too, though he snores, and
Keane sleeps like a log.

Mallory hunches a little smaller. "Sorry."

"Don't be. I was sleeping light long before
I ever met you," I say. "I want to know
if something's wrong, so I can get up and fix it."

Moving with care, she wraps her hands
around the cup of tea and sips it slowly.
Her eyebrows go up. "This tastes like candy."

"Got it at Wholesome Joe's," I explain.
"Ginger, licorice, fennel, and anise --
plus I added a bay leaf while it was brewing."

"It's good," she says softly. "Helps."

Her body is a riot of hormones, everything
sloshing around so wildly it's no wonder she's sick.
Soup pregnancies can be difficult, sometimes delicate.

"Want me to try something a little more direct?"
I offer, waggling my fingers to illustrate.

Mallory nods. She puts the teacup on the table,
then stretches out on the mattress.

I feather my power over her, light as I can,
not trying to change anything so much as
convince it to settle down a bit.

After a few minutes, Mallory heaves a sigh of relief
and sits up to retrieve her cup of tea. "Thanks."

"It's no trouble at all," I say,
leaning against the end of the futon.
"Do you think you can get back to sleep?"

She shakes her head. "Not soon."

"Want some company?" I offer.

Mallory looks up at me through her ragged bangs,
then looks down again. "It's your house."
She probably doesn't even notice that
she's leaning toward me.

I sit down, the mattress sighing under my weight.
"What would you like to do?" I ask. "Talk? Read?"

"If I'm going to be up, guess I should
do something useful with the time."
She drags a folder from the bookcase
in the arm of the futon. "I've got this ...
college stuff to go over, but it's kind of a mess."

Not really my strong suit, I realize;
time to hand off the situation to someone else.

Mallory isn't that close with Clarity --
I think Clarity's precision makes Mallory
feel self-conscious sometimes --
but she gets along better with Maze.


I wake to the sound of voices, inside and out --
Clement talking with Mallory -- and I
slip through the house that is my head,
past Ham's door with the snores pouring forth.

I can hear the soft snuffle as he half-wakes,
realizes someone else is on the ball,
and goes back to sleep as I continue
down the hall to the front room.

Clement eases back as I move forward,
making the change with practiced grace now.

Mallory may be feeling better, but
she's still too queasy and distracted to notice
that Clement and I have traded places.

"So, you don't mind working half the night,
when you can't sleep?" I ask her.

"I like the night," Mallory says softly.
"During the day, everyone has expectations,
wants to you be and do certain things.
The night is a canvas for reinvention."

"I hadn't thought of that. It sounds nice,"
I say. "Show me what you've got."

Mallory opens the folder. "Here," she says.

Several of the uppermost pages hold
information about student parenting --
there is a form to enroll an infant at
the Student Health center, one on daycare
at the Early Childhood Development center, and
another for class accommodations of family issues.

"My friend Jason runs a support group, Junior Dads,
for young men who have fathered children,
so they can balance school and parenting," I say.
"I bet he'd know how to sort out the kiddie stuff."

Mallory turns into a little ball of misery again.

Keane whacks me over the back of the head
with his hand and demands that I do something
or he'll come out and do it for me. I don't even
know who woke him -- it wasn't me.

"Uh, sorry, I didn't mean to say
the wrong thing," I stammer.

"The father cares fuckall about parenting,
whoever he is," Mallory whispers.
"They sure as hell didn't care whether
I was awake for the opening day events."

I wince. "Yeah. My bad.
If there's a Junior Dads group, though,
there must be one for mothers too;
I just don't know who runs it."

"I guess I could check," Mallory says
without enthusiasm. "I have
no idea what I'm doing."

"I could look it up for you," I offer,
making a note on some scratch paper.
"Save your energy for the tasks only you can do."

"Okay," she says,
taking another drink of tea.

I pick up the baby pages and
paperclip them together. It's easier
to handle things if they're sorted into batches.

Below those are college applications,
parts of her previous class lists
along with requirement sheets
for various majors and minors,
and crib notes that look like part of
a program for hacking the campus servers.

"You're good with computers," I observe,
tracing the lines of code with a fingertip.

"It just comes easy to me," Mallory says
with a one-shouldered shrug.
"I took some classes, but I couldn't
get into all the ones I needed for a minor."

"You know," I say slowly, "it's simpler
to get into undergraduate than graduate school.
What if you looked at coming back for computer science
instead of trying to continue with theatrical studies?"

Mallory's thumb taps at her teacup. "Maybe ...
I don't really have a plan, though."

Mira whispers to me that it's still dark out
and the canvas is open to all possibilities.

"It's night, not day," I say to Mallory, shaping
Mira's observations into my own framework.
"You have a canvas for reinvention, remember.
What would you be, if you could be anything?"

"I don't know," Mallory says in a low voice.
Her hands flutter like birds bumping against
a windowpane. "Why are you helping me?"

It's not the first time she's asked that,
but usually it's Clement on the line when she does.

Because nobody deserves to get raped
while passed out drunk at a party

I know better than to say that out loud --
hell, even Ham would know better --
so instead I say, "Maybe if I can help you
pull your life together, we can stay friends
instead of going back to fighting as enemies.
I certainly think it's worth a try."

"I think I like this better," Mallory says,
one corner of her mouth tugging up.

"SPOON has a fund for helping soups
further their education, especially
if it's anything that can be used for
protection or awareness of super issues,"
I say. "They can pull strings too."

"I'm a supervillain," Mallory says,
"or at least I was."

"Not actually a problem," I assure her,
and I like the sound of that was.
"Listen, let me go get my laptop."

It only takes a minute to duck into my room
and fetch the laptop. I bring up the SPOON site,
then ask Mallory, "Are you registered?"

She shakes her head. "I was scared to."

"You're the one who taught me about
blue chamomile, though," I point out.

"The health and safety information
is on the public pages," Mallory said.
"I didn't see any need for the member forum.
I already had ... a different account."

"BlackSheep?" I ask. It's a favorite
social network for supervillains.

"Baaaa," she drawls, winking at me.

I log into the SPOON site using my own password,
then open the section relating to education
and scholarships. "See, there are plenty
of resources here," I tell Mallory as I cue
some pages to run off on the printer in my room.
"They want young soups to have a chance,
even people who've made some mistakes."

"What's the catch?" she asks,
an edge in her voice.

I bite back a sigh. "Well, not doing
any more supervillain things would be nice,"
I say. "I think the formal requirements are just
don't maim or kill anyone, don't hack the SPOON site,
and don't break laws while visiting any of their facilities."

"And that's it?" Mallory says.

"Far as I know, though you should really
visit the SPOON base up in Onion City
and ask questions in person," I say.

"I thought about it, before, but ...
I didn't think they'd like me," she says.
There is something young and terribly fragile
about her confession.

I reach over to pat her shoulder
the way Clement sometimes does.
"I could come with you," I offer.
"They like me well enough."

"What's the catch?" she asks again,
like this is a negotiation instead of
just one friend helping another.

Then it hits me that maybe she
doesn't have friends, not like I do,
not people who do favors without
holding their hand out for payment.

The ache of it ripples down to the core of me,
flowing over Clement and Keane both.

"How about this," I propose. "You agree
not to attack me as long as I'm helping you.
I want a warning if you decide to go
all supervillain again, okay? And in return
for putting in a good word for you at SPOON,
you teach me some of what you know
about computers; that way I can help
keep you safe until the new enrollment
has time to register in the system."

"What about the person who gets kicked out
of college so that I can get back in?" she asks.
"Getting shut out like that really sucks."

"Not an issue," I assure her. "SPOON tends to
work with addition rather than replacement.
It helps undermine the fork arguments
against soups, if we're not 'taking a space'
they think should go to someone else.
You winning does not necessarily mean
that somebody else has to lose."

"That's ... new," Mallory says.

I hold out a hand. "What do you say? Deal?"

Her fingers feel cool and soft against mine.
"Deal," she says quietly.

Then she yawns.

Maybe, I think, Clement has a chance
of getting her back to sleep now.


As I glide forward again, I realize that
Maze has done a great job of wearing out Mallory,
who is starting to nod and sway a little.

"Want me to turn out the light when I leave?"
I ask as I take the empty teacup from her
to set it quietly on the end table.

"Still dunno if I can sleep," she mumbles,
her voice blurred with exhaustion,
and yes, I can feel the runkle of insomnia
that makes real rest so elusive.

"I could fix that for you," I say,
turning my hand palm up. Bringing sleep
is one of the easiest of a healer's tricks,
and among the first that I learned.

"Sure," Mallory says.

"Lie back down," I coax, helping her
to settle onto the mattress.
I straighten out the rumpled blanket
and drape it over her.

Mallory's power bucks and bristles
against my own for a moment.
Sometimes it fights me when she's not
actively sick or injured.

"Shhh," I soothe. "Think about how nice
it would be to get a few more hours of rest."

I stroke my power over her again,
soft and warm and gentle, imagining
my hands covered in velvet gloves.

Mallory hums under my touch,
and her power settles enough that
I can ease her down into sleep.

I put everything away as quietly as I can,
turn off the light, and tiptoe back to my room.

If night is a canvas for reinvention,
I think, I would paint the two of us
sitting side by side like that,
instead of facing off in combat.
I'd use the blue of peace and
the silver of new friendship.

And it would be beautiful.

* * *


"I have patches of insomnia, and I'm fascinated by the otherness of the world at night. The stillness. Daytime preoccupations fall away, standards change, thoughts change. It's a canvas for reinvention, I think."
-- Morag Joss

At this time, Mallory is ten weeks pregnant.

Various herbs can be used in stomach soothing teas. This blend consists of ginger, fennel, licorice, and anise with a bay leaf added.

Wholesome Joe's is a health food chain in Terramagne.

People may be light or heavy sleepers. Light sleeping may come from a desire to help, a feeling of insecurity, or many other causes.

Leaning toward someone is an example of receptive body language. Now that Mallory has some people around her who are actually helpful and caring, she's starting to open up a little.

Pregnancy in college poses many challenges, but pregnant students have rights even here. In Terramagne the situation is somewhat better, though still not perfect. Student parents also face difficulties, but there are tips for parenting while in college. A good support network can make a huge difference.

Indecision is a common problem, and there are many reasons why people are indecisive. They may have no good options; if they've been largely powerless to make meaningful decisions, then that inexperience can cause hesitation and confusion. Similarly if they don't know what they want, they can't use a goal to sort out better or worse choices. There are some basic premises for working through indecision and step-by-step instructions. With Mallory, she hasn't had many opportunities to make major decisions for herself, feels pushed around by life, and rarely knows what she wants in the first place.

Making a life plan is an important step in shaping the future. Learn how to create a life plan. There is also a brilliant alternative set of instructions for planning your life when you are not in control of it.

Knowing yourself is an essential requirement for planning a successful life. To figure out who you are, take time for introspection and exploration, and ask some thoughtful questions.  You should also know how to turn your interests into skills.

BlackSheep is a social network favored by supervillains, where they can exchange messages. It works similar to Twitter, and the posts are called bleats. It's inspired by the black sheep social concept.

There are diverse reasons why someone might have no friends. Being disliked can have advantages as well as disadvantages. Mallory's negative experiences have made her wary and prickly, which discourages more people from interacting with her. That also inhibits her willingness to reach out. Know how to feel more secure.

Life is not a zero-sum game. However, finding win-win solutions is a learned skill.

Insomnia is a common problem during pregnancy. There are many natural remedies for insomnia. Most people find a healer's aura soothing. Mallory is still iffy about that too.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-26 06:26 am (UTC)
thnidu: You're a bit cold? Tea. BF just left you? Tea. You've just been told you've got cancer? Tea. Terrorists? Tea, dammit! (tea)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Another step (or five) to a good settlement. (Warm sigh and smile.)

Wholesome Joe's sounds like Whole Foods crossed with Trader Joe's.

• To figure out who your are,
→ you

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-26 10:48 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
From the name I thought that too, but the description sounds more like Trader Joe's crossed with GNC. Whole Foods and TJ's are direct competitors and carry similar products; I wouldn't describe either of them as a health food chain.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-26 06:48 am (UTC)
mdlbear: (vixy-rose)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Oh, Gods! I love this so much! Love how Damask is developing, and how they interact with Mallory. It's a kind of support I mostly didn't have in college. Would have been nice.

As for Wholesome Joe's, well, we're 1/3 mile from the local Trader Joe's. Easy walking distance when I'm not aching or overwhelmed.

Still love this

Date: 2014-12-26 01:04 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Damask is absolutely amazing to watch as they develop new skills, learn to share what was unevenly divided... even standing chin-deep in a problem they're still /trying/ to do their best, when it's pretty clear they have only rudimentary skills for the task.

That's wonderful. It's different than the modern comics or television... it's /very/ different from movies where characters are so shallow they can be labeled with a sticky note, and "development" is nonexistent.

Mallory has the more immediate and difficult problems to sort out, but I can /see/ how the headmates are working their own issues out in part by /having/ to reach out to her in unfamiliar, uncomfortable ways. The changes between this poem and the last are clearly implied.

I love the idea of specifying "addition" rather than "replacement" in enrollments. I wish there were more of it here.

Re: Still love this

Date: 2014-12-26 10:55 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I've dumped several mystery series (books) when the lead character didn't seem to have any kind of a learning curve. I dumped Bones on TV when they got rid of all the character growth that had been achieved in the first 3 seasons (not to mention my favorite character!) and went back to square one. "No character growth" is a major issue for me.

The idea of "You're taking a place that a REAL person needs" has been widely used against both women and minorities. I'm not surprised that it comes up against soups as well.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-26 05:49 pm (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
Thinking on higher education, maybe in this world the new forms of student loans were discovered to be one of the most villainous of supervillain plots, and other resources were created instead.

Now in my day - HEY YOU KIDS! GET OFF MY LAWN! - you could take loans out up to a strict limit and repayment wouldn't be *that* hard. I thought that was a decent idea. Seems the idea has grown and changed - like a malignant tumor.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-26 11:03 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
I agree that the night is more "open" for experimentation. I've had conversations in the middle of the night that could never have happened by day.

Nice seeing how much better they're getting at swapping front. An observant person (like Dan the ice-cream man, and when are we going to see him again?) might notice the shifts, but I don't think the average person would catch it by now.

Someone I used to know on Usenet once said, "I'm the neon-purple sheep of my family," and I leaped on the phrase with glad cries and have used it ever since. I was never the person my extended family was ashamed of, but I was definitely the incomprehensible one. My parents... had other issues.

Sleep and health

Date: 2014-12-27 04:05 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
While many people use melatonin to aid sleep, there are two drawbacks here:
1. Melatonin boosts the intensity and frequency of remembered dreams. Not so good if you need deep, non-REM sleep.
2. Melatonin is a hormone, and pregnancy makes hormones go wild. It might backfire or overboost, or not even work; and the effect may vary greatly until Mallory's hormones settle down. But some women just end up miserable throughout their pregnancies.

-- also, somewhat related, regarding pregnancy nausea and metaphysics: intense vomiting is often related to identity trauma, and a disconnect between identity and power (the general function of the solar plexus and belly/navel chakras). While I am physically male, I've had similar vomiting most of my life. Just randomly every so often, I'd wake up from a deep sleep and shortly need to vomit, and then be fine. It happened again about a year and a half ago, and I connected some dots and realized it happened every time my identity was twisted or disconnected from me in some important way. This occurrence has faded over time as I've engaged in intense healing of my spirit body and personal psychology, but not everyone is able to gain the time or environment to do this, and not everyone is a healer or knows someone trained for the work.

That said, vomiting also definitely an effect of changes in hormones, body pH, and gut bacteria. Diarrhea and intense gas and bloating can also result from these changes, since a shift in the body's internal environment will cause the gut's microbial biome to change as well; different species of bacteria become more prominent, while others protest mightily as they die off. Early pregnancy is an intensely cleansing time in many ways, which is a big reason pregnant women are said to "glow" with life -- I've observed it as a metaphysical effect, as well as a physical one.

Re: Sleep and health

Date: 2014-12-28 02:04 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
>> intense vomiting is often related to identity trauma, and a disconnect between identity and power (the general function of the solar plexus and belly/navel chakras). <<

Well, huh. I had not encountered that premise before, but it makes sense.

It seems to be like the DT's, in that it happens when you're recovering, not when you're still deep in the pain. Vomiting is, after all, a purge reflex.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-12-26 05:36 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Mmmmm. I'd forgotten how much I liked that ending. :)

Thank you!

Date: 2014-12-26 05:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. I wanted something quiet and pretty.


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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