Friday, August 28, 2015

Resonance Observed

“Papa bought me a magic bowl! It can make water dance. It has dragons on. Look, Mama!” I was six. The bowl held me enthralled - far more enthralled than the return of my father from his voyage. He showed me on the atlas where he had been, drew little pictures of the ship in which he had travelled. But I wanted to know how the bowl worked, where its magic came from. “From China,” my father replied, indicating the embroidered silk he had bought my mother, complete with strange-looking people on it.

I kept the bowl, and my childish wish to understand its magic grew over the years. As an only child, I benefited unusually from the education a brother would have had. But my father rued the instruction in natural philosophy I received. It encouraged my fascination with how the world worked - and the apparent magic behind my bowl. I was not a beautiful girl, nor sociable, and combined with long hours in libraries and laboratories, my father worried that I would become unmarriageable.

The way the water jumped and patterned in the bowl when the handles were rubbed kept me entranced, and I became determined to find a way to get to China. But life on the High Seas was deemed entirely unsuitable for a woman - even more risible than the idea of a woman who had understood something of natural philosophy.

Attending a lecture by a young German scientist at the new British Museum, I saw a way forward. Dr Chladni had brought with him a steel plate. He covered it in sand and drew a violin bow across the edge of it. The sand leapt and bounced, and I was struck by the similarity to my magic bowl. I was the only woman present, and had become used to the reactions to my questions and interest - everything from amusement to indignation. But at least I stood out, and Dr Chladni took my questions.

We worked together a great deal over the years: the perfect partnership, in a sense. It was I who discovered that both bowl and steel plate relied upon the resonance created by sound in order to move the substances they held. But it could only be under Ernst Chladni’s name that my discoveries were published. In a way, it suited us both.

I never did marry, but even as my name went unacknowledged for my work, at least I escaped some of the constraints respectability would have conferred. The true magic of my bowl was the freedom it ultimately brought me.

by Olivia Jackson

Friday, August 14, 2015


Mei Lien was going to the opening night of the first Greyhound dog racing event in Shanghai.

She wore a long yellow silk dress and her maid helped her into her shoes. Her husband was a banker and they had two daughters. The girls wore tight fitting dresses in pale green silk with a blossom pattern, high heels and their hair loose at the back.

“Welcome to the grand opening of Luna Park”, Major McBain said as they entered the private suite. He had introduced Greyhound racing to Shanghai and was their host of the night. Mei Lien was presented with a silk fan with a map of the grounds printed on it, and her daughters were given silk handkerchiefs. The sisters linked arms and walked quickly towards the sound of Jazz.

It was a warm, balmy night and the opening fireworks lit up the track which was designed as a Chinese garden, with trees, grass and a rockery. In the first race, her husband placed large bets on two dogs called “Merry Sinner” and “Merry Go Round”. 

He held Mei Lien’s arm as they walked slowly towards the track. Westerners couldn’t help but stare at her. As she walked past, they turned their heads to watch her, fascinated by her bent knees and swinging hips. Mei Lien’s husband had always been entranced by her erotic walk.

Mei Lien watched the race, excited by the speed of the Greyhounds chasing the mechanical lure. She thought back to when she was a child running in her garden; she remembered the feel of the grass between her toes and her heart pounding when she stopped. But then she thought of her sixth birthday. Her mother breaking her four smaller toes and bending them backwards under her big toe, breaking the arch of her foot. She felt nauseous thinking of the smell of her feet being tightly bound by bandages that were soaked in animal blood and herbs She had endured the pain for years until her feet were no longer than four inches long.

She wished she could run free like the Greyhounds, but her lotus feet had attracted a wealthy husband and she had done well for her family. Mei Lien smiled contentedly knowing her daughters had been spared her pain as they danced freely to the Jazz.

by Frances Shaw 

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Bloodied Bowl

I am a worthless speck.

My actions have no meaning.
Sleep is transitory, and I have grown accustomed to
the sharp pain of a starved body.
I am as fragile as mom’s favorite ceramic bowl.
On the rustic wooden hutch, it sits in glory.
Holding potpourri
within its smooth walls, the dead flowers safe, secure.
Oh tragedy! If it were to be smashed —thousands of miniscule pieces.

My shattered being – a shadow – a prized bowl.

I am not on a pedestal, nothing more than that bowl.

But everyone tells me, “You’re good enough.”
They don’t know how it feels,
to feel nothing at all.
To waste space, breathe precious oxygen.
Happiness scoffs at my misery,
sadness scorns me for dwelling in it.

I am hollow, but that ceramic bowl is full.
It holds the remnants of life, beauty in a deathly domain.
Perhaps that is how my contribution will be acknowledged —
in Death’s deep, dark folds.

The bowl is in my hands.
It slips. Falls. Bleeds upon the tile.
Petals scatter, shards cut, feathery skin rips.

This is how it has to be.

By Perry Bower