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Kathleen Bell

from Jamie’s Book of Ingenuity: an imagined life of James Watt, engineer 1736-1819

(moments from the life of James Watt)

How to rise
(advice culled from biographies, inscriptions and laudatory speeches)

Have genius.
Be Scotch.

A braw mother helps.

Illness can offer
time to reflect.

Experiment.
          When inspiration comes
put it to work.
          Make money –
Fortune favours
          the brave inventor.

Your fingers are your wealth.
Write down your trade
          as “engineer.”
Be above trade.

Achieve a cheerful wife
– a good domestic –
          when she dies
look  for a dowry
and a fetching way,
with good Scotch sense.

Business is not
for such as you                                                  
so find good partners.
If they fail
be kind, but free yourself.

For work,
select industrious men
who make no trouble.
They must be exact.
Music’s for  profit
but a snare
to idleness (best left behind).

And most of all, select
the ancestry you need:
not high
nor low
but middling sort
for solid worth:
a steady source of cash
and training
          good connections
          good reserves

for then you’ll be
most apt to rise

as all can
who work hard.
Yes, I say all.

No waste allowed.
No idleness.


Jamie dreams:  3 September – 13 September 1752

There are days between days.
                                             Greenock. And in his dreams
                                                                                                    slow Jamie's striding out
and he does not pause
                                             not once though

                                                                                                    the child is trapped in the womb
and the dying woman is still
                                             for eleven days of nothing
                                                                                                    caught on a fractured breath.

Jamie is over the hills
                                                                                                    and away.

Out there
                                             he's ready, strong. He takes to the height
                                                                                                    sets the theodolite,
places his eye
                                             close to the spyglass
                                                                                                    certain, employs his mind
in swift calculation.

                                            There's not a grass-blade stirs
                                                                                                    just Jamie
Jamie, who holds wide space
                                            and steadies it, careful, to track
                                                                                                    both distance and depth

here, in this windless world
                                            where the kingdom of number moves
                                                                                                    and it alone (Jamie its conqueror)
where every weight has a height
                                            and every depth a mass
                                                                                                    and all can be measured, all
so Jamie thinks in his dreams
                                            till he sneezes, breathes
                                                                                                    and recalls.

Motion returns
                                            with day
                                                                                                    and leaps
over distance and depth
                                            refuses to be surveyed
                                                                                                    and scrambles
away from his dream
                                            It's out of Jamie's hands
                                                                                                    and sight now, moves
with the rasp, rattle, and screech
                                                  of steam forced from a kettle
                                                                                                    across the waste of time.

 

 

Copyright © Kathleen Bell, 2017.