Born to Be

I am Not Afraid; I Was Born to do This -Jeanne D’arc 

Joan of Arc

is the greatest story I have ever been told.

I remember being fourteen

-with scabby knees and wide eyes-

reading tales

of this woman warrior.

 

Joan rose above her station

to fit the pieces of her war-torn nation back together,

the same way you would solve a jigsaw puzzle, blind.

She trusted nothing more than the voices ringing in her ears

and the puzzle beneath her fingertips.

Her trial by fire consumed her

until all that remained from the heat

was the spark of defiance she left to her people.

 

That same spark caught within me;

to this day I want to be Joan of Arc.

I want to be strong and brave,

but, more importantly,

I want to know what I stand for.

 

Now this is more complicated than it seems,

because while everyone has hopes and dreams,

not everyone has something they would face the flames for.

Not everyone has their soul carved into their backbone,

bracing their chin up to meet the gaze of all who hunt them.

But Joan did.

 

At fourteen I knew this to be true,

and in silent moments, in quiet pockets of time

I would talk to her.

 

“Dear Joan, grant me courage.”

“Dear Joan, make me brave.”

“Dear Joan, I want to be untouchable.”

 

I had no real reason to want this other than to have it,

and at fourteen all I knew

was I wanted my soul carved into my spine.

In life, she had called out to her saints,

and in death, I swore she became mine.

 


When she was seventeen,

Joan of Arc broke through the siege on the city of Orleans

like rolling thunder from the mountains.

Her angels sang her into history

as she turned the tide of a war that had left her people gutted.

Though she heard whispers of the end in her ear,

all she could see before her was her duty

 to God and her people.

 

Yet,

when I was seventeen,

I tore through my last child years like wildfire.

Unlike Joan, I did not heed the warning of the end.

Instead, all I saw was duty to myself and my ambitions,

a voice goading me on for  more.

 


At the age of eighteen,

when she tried to free the city of Paris,

Joan was captured by her enemy and eventually left to rot.

For a year they held her on trial,

until finally the fire by which she had burned so brightly

came to lick her bones.

 

Dear Joan,

I am no longer a child, but I still look to you.

I know in your last moments

you called for our Saviour,

and as I stand here petrified,

I see you as a lifeline.

I see you as I see the sun.

They handed you a verdict, slandered you heretic,

as though the voices in your head,

the truest truths you have ever known,

could somehow be false.

They demanded that you renounce everything.

Sign your name to a document declaring your actions to be sinful,

even though you are nothing more than a farm girl

who cannot write her own name.

 

I see the cracks in the glass of your skin Joan.

I see you waver, and it reminds me

of how torturously human we all are,

how I am.

 


It will be three days and four nights

before you are able to breathe again.

And once you have found yourself,

that breath will only draw in smoke.

You will be nothing more

than a spark above a burning bush,

just a girl with hands clasping for deliverance.

 

Dear Joan,

What I am finally coming to understand,

is that I am not fireproof either.

I am finally coming to recognize that I have had something stolen.

My childhood has been spent

and I cannot take it back.

 

It is not even that I feel regret,

but the knowledge that I have lost a part of me.

When you were seventeen, you were a hero.

 

When I was seventeen,

I was…waiting.

As though the world were a train refusing to be on schedule.

The whistle is insistently impatient.

Now that I have all I was waiting for,

now that I move to leap,

my legs betray me with a stubborn insistence to want to stay behind.

Dear Joan,

When you traded life for your name,

did you ever look back?

And as you went down,

and the flames went up,

did you ever ask yourself if it was worth it?

Or did you know that you would shape the world in your echo?

 

Dear Joan,

You shape me in your echo.

I call to you because you know the fear of oblivion.

The fear of consuming flames which choke you in the night.

 

I do not know where my life goes from here.

In a years’ time I will outlive Joan of Arc.

 

Dear Joan,

For all that I love in you, I cannot be you.

For all of your fight, I must heed caution.

For all of your fire, I must learn to not burn myself out.

I see you and your funeral pyre,

sending out sparks to other little girls with wide eyes and scabby knees,

and I know that someone must carry on

all the work left to be done.

I intend to take

what little of your fire I can,

and keep it close to my heart.

I will do all that I am able

to take your light into the unknown with me.

Coyotes Calling Home

I’ve never seen a darker sky than the one that lingers over the rural roads outside my city after nightfall. If that sky and the world beneath it was a canvas, it would be painted a thousand variations of the darkest blues. That’s one thing people consistently get wrong about the night sky. They call it black, but it’s blue. Even the stars are blue here, their yellows sucked out by winter’s chill.

The dashboard clock reads 11:28 and the air behind my brake-lights coughs red as I prepare for a stop sign I can’t see but know is coming. That’s the wonder of the back-roads. Drive them enough and every detail works its way into your system to the point where muscle memory can take over, even though it’s been years since you’ve driven them.

You can never lie to roads like these; they turn time to dust and in doing so make liars of us all.

I stop at the sign and suddenly I am ten again. Summer has enveloped the Canadian prairie and Dad is taking me out into the rural areas outside town practically every day. I fly kites and run barefoot over fields until I know the hills and the roads alongside them like the palms of my hands. He says that this is the kind of summer he grew up with; the kind that makes your feet tough and your lungs strong and puts you in sync with nature. The kind of summer where at night, if you howled at the stars, the coyotes would sing out in reply because they recognized a kindred spirit in your voice. The kind where you learn to see the night sky as blue instead of black, because black is a void but blue is a possibility.

I believed his words whole-heartedly. I still do. Because in that summer I knew my place in the world and the world knew me, but now winter has come and I’ve found myself backtracking, searching for a place I can belong to again.

The dashboard reads 11:34.

I’ve sat idle long enough. Even on roads like these, prolonged pauses are not a safe idea.

I press my foot to the gas and begin to fly, but not before catching sight of two golden spheres glowing in the roadside ditch. As my car pulls away I hear a familiar howling and all I can think is that perhaps there is room for yellow in the night sky and that  I’m not as out of touch with the world as I thought. After all, the coyotes must still consider me their kind, because they’re calling me home.