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.

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Honeybee

I have spent my time flying towards the sweeter things in life.

This incessant humming in my head

drives me to work in microscopic details,

collecting powdered bits and pieces of whatever I can

in order to build something bigger than myself.

There are days when I feel that I am nothing more

than a vessel for my work;

my body a hive for words that stick to my insides

and drip from my mouth

glowing and golden.

My stripes are the lines of black font and fortitude

I press into flower petal pages.

They serve as a warning: Beware of Writer.

Be cautious of me, for when I am at work, that’s all I see.

Do not try to stall or stop my wings.

Instead, marvel at the garden I leave behind.

I am a collection of

pastel petals and rich nectar,

along with all the beeswax and elbow grease it takes

to bring them into being.

My buzzing is a sign I am alive and a song of joy.

How happy I am to be at work with purpose

that keeps the world turning.

To pollinate the earth with pockets of words

and whatever optimism I have to offer

is enough to propel me upward.

How glorious it is to kiss the sky.

(In) Fact, (In Fiction)

I am (not) what you think I am.

(In) Fact
I am entirely what you think I should be.
(Except there is a twist.)

I am the water of a lake,
as smooth as glass.
(The calm that comes before the storm.)
You can see the bottom (but it is deeper than you think.)
The light reaches the bed of rock (but cannot fill every crack.)
It is teeming with fish (and sharks too.)

(In) Fact
(there are whales and walruses and mermaids,
for this is not a lake; it’s the ocean)
life is everywhere.

I am glorious to swim in
for my current will rock you softly
and hold you high.
(but I could drown you should it suit my fancy.)

I am (the maiden.) the mother. (and the crone.)
A (three) face (Celtic goddess) who wears a smile close to her heart.
(and a scowl on her sleeve.
I am not often angry, but when I am,)
I am prepared for anything.

(In) Fact
I am a fire (and a hurricane too,)
because my heart is warm
(Although, I must say that when I rain, I pour.
Fire bends before water)
and I will (wash you out unless I) care.

(Do not mistake me.
It is in my nature to care.
I care so much my chest aches.)

So run into my arms (while they are open.)
and I will hold you close.
I love easy (because I choose optimism)
and forgive often.
(at my own expense.)
You can trust me.
I am not complicated.
(in comparison to anyone else.
Everyone is equally as messy as I am.)

I am everything you imagine me to be,
(but also what you wouldn’t expect.)
and that is a fact,
(in fiction.)

The Aviator

I have always liked to think that the birds of St. Michael’s were my friends. They have been with me my entire life, and that’s more than I can say for most folks I’ve encountered. c3afaa327f1a7aa93a40b4bf034479c8Despite the changing of the seasons and endless flipping of calendars, they have remained as constant as the bells that bring in the dawn. The clear and bright sound of their ringing disperses the fog every morning, and with it there is a chorus of beating wings to add to the hymn. I can recall waking up to those bells every day as a child. Now, despite all the changes in my life, the only thing that has changed in regards to how I wake up is the view from the bedroom window.

The only creatures that seem to be alive when I wake up now are the birds. Marvelously humbling creatures they are. Despite how swiftly the river of time flows, it would seem that we will always be craning our necks to see them. Even planes have their limitations, like fuel or bad weather, but birds can fly whenever they wish for however long they choose. Such freedom would be exhilarating I imagine. Back when I was young my life used to be that way. As the youngest in a family of eight my parents and older siblings had very little time to watch me, so I spent my days wandering the cobblestone streets of my town, often throwing breadcrumbs to the birds of the church. Perhaps that is why birds can fly and we cannot. They live so close to God’s own house that it must only be natural that they can almost touch the heavens. At night they all roost in the bell tower. I fear they must be cold at night, the poor little dears with nothing but feathers to keep them warm. I’m always cold at night now. I ask the nurses to add extra blankets to the bed, but they’re the kind that makes the skin itch something dreadful.

I suppose the birds have each other to keep warm. They bundle in tight for the night in their bell tower bed, dreaming of how they will take to the sky come morning. No one else will be awake to see them rise except me. Everyone sleeps in late now. Sometimes I fear that our world has forgotten what a sunrise looks like. God paints the sky every morning, and yet when I stare down from my window I see empty streets. It’s a melancholy sight. Some might call it peaceful, but it only makes me sad. An empty street is a lonely one. There’s nothing to make the ground give off a jolly rattle, and so by leaving them alone they are condemned to sleep. And so I watch the birds take to the sky alone. Up they go, higher than the kites of my childhood could ever hope to reach. I’ve got half a mind to fly a kite right now. What a sight that would be, a woman my age with a kite in town square. Of course, no one would see it anyway. And it’s not as if the nurses would let me go. These days I can’t be trusted to go to the bathroom by myself let alone walk into town. They keep insisting I could fall and hurt myself. Clearly they don’t know how strong my legs are. As a girl, I was the fastest runner in my seventh grade class, boys included. No one could catch me. Every time I tell that story though, the only response I get is that times have change. I don’t see how that could be. I still have the same legs after all. It’s not as though I’ve gone and gotten a new pair. The memory of running like that is still in them somewhere. Of course, I could never run now, but I’m certain I could walk mighty fine on my own. Well enough to get to St. Michael’s at least. It’s only two blocks from here. I can see it from my bedroom window. It’s a lovely sight. Did you know that the bells ring there every morning? It’s like clockwork really. Despite all that’s changed, they’re the one thing I can count on. That and the birds, my darling little birds.

I like to think of them as mine. No one else seems to care much about them now, but I still do. I remember how folks used to feed them. Children would tug at their mother’s arms, asking for pocket change to buy a bag of breadcrumbs. Folks were more compassionate then I think. Or at the very least, they noticed more. Once the streets do wake up, long after the sun has been in the sky I might add, people walk by them in droves, and rarely does anyone seem to see them. Unless, of course, the birds are in their way. If that’s the case people scold them and shoo them, calling them a nuisance among other things. The kind of language one does hear in front of God’s house these days is appalling. And with nothing left to turn to, the birds take to the sky, seeking the kind of warmth that divine love can give. Even with that though, I imagine they must be lonely. They must know how things used to be. They must miss it.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the world of the morning. When no one is awake but them or I, time seems to echo back on itself. The nice thing about quiet streets is it guarantees I can hear the bells. My ears aren’t what they used to be, and sometimes I fear that if cars start driving early in the morning, I will miss my wake-up call. Then I won’t get to see my friends immerse themselves that melted crayon sky. 8636567709_9f10548eab_mI must confess, sometimes I imagine I am among their numbers. That my fingers have stopped their infernal shaking and that they can crack my window open. From there, I would stand tall upon my ledge and a leap so strong that I would shoot up into the sky. My friends would teach me how to fly then and we’d soar until the town became nothing but a speck. We wouldn’t come down until nightfall, but even then we would share a roost. No more itchy blankets, only soft down feathers. I had a down quilt growing up. My own grandmother had made it by hand, back in the old country. Of course, it was falling apart the last time I remember seeing it. I asked my son to pack it with my things when they moved me. He said it was lost in the journey. But with my bird friends, it would be almost as if I had my quilt back. How lovely that would be!

That would be a dream life I should think; flying clear and free. Everyone around you encouraging you to go higher rather than to stay on the ground. Of course, it will never happen. My wings have been clipped I’m afraid. Instead, I will have to content myself to nothing more than the ringing of bells and the sight of grey feathers among an illuminated morning sky.

Stars

“And the rest is rust and Stardust.”-Vladimir Nabokov Lolita

hhhAll my life
I have wondered how the universe would be
if I could hold it in my hands.
I have longed to know whether or not
grasping at the straws of infinity
could make the world we live in a better place
or a worse one.
At the age of eighteen I am acutely aware
that my hubris will be the end of me.
This deadly pride that prompts me to
swallow galaxies
in an attempt for some sort of control.
As if my tiny, incapable hands could somehow
contain and constrain the cosmos.
Still, the thought lingers.
That tantalizing ‘what if’
holds my soul hostage.
After all, there is no definitive moment
in which the brightest star of a constellation
becomes Icarus
and plummets to the earth.
Who is to say what the limits of greatness are?
The ‘when’ and ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it all
are so murky.
Perhaps that is why
I refused to be satisfied
with all that is mundane.
In this lifeof stained-glass ceilings
and stars
I want nothing more
than to push past the barriers
and rearrange the constellations.
To calculate and quantify
and boil out all mystery
until there is nothing left to question
and everything open to know.
I suppose in many ways this makes me a typical person,
as typical as typical can be.
My audacity and refusal to leave
well enough alone
simply makes me a number among the masses
who feel that they are akin
to all the stars in the sky.
Still, there are moments
when I look out at that infinite space
and feel as though those bright lights and I
are one in the same.
Both of us are simply a part of something greater
and yet we shine bright with a uniqueness
that is entirely our own.
Perhaps I am both parts rust and stardust
and that is why the heavens call to me.
Among the earthly dirt and grime
there is an etherealness
that comes from exposed fingertips
grasping at starlight.

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.

There’s a Girl

“I am going to make everything around me beautiful-that will be my life.” -Elsie de Wolfe

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 There’s a girl who longs to be a force of nature. She speaks and writes and dreams up metaphors of things that are built to matter. Her greatest fear is that none of this will ever be enough. So she works harder. Stays up later. Asks questions until she has no voice. Writes as though time is out to get her.  In her quest for all that is bright and beautiful, she has spent a fortune of words that never seem just right. She is looking for perfection in a world that does not contain the concept in its vocabulary, and thus the search goes on. She does not know if it is pride or fear or hope that pushes her forward, only that she will not stop. When she becomes all that she was born to be, she swears she will know.

  There’s a girl who longs to be a thousand and one things because there are moments when being just a girl, just one little person, in this expansive cosmos feels as though it is not enough. She knows there is a place for all in the universe, but it is the great space inside her that baffles her so much that the only way to explain it is to compare it to something else. When she writes out this poem, she swears that she will unravel the doubts she has about herself and lay every card on the table.

  There’s a girl who does not want to write about herself. She fears that the world will either find her boring or reject her. There’s a girl who is not nearly as together as she seems. There’s a girl who feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. There’s a girl who feels as though she cannot carry it all, but she will never say a word because she has a stubborn insistence of making it through, even if it kills her.

  But…

 There’s also a girl who loves herself. She has worked hard to be where she is today and she does not regret it for a second. There’s a girl whose laughter is genuine and who has a smile that meets her eyes. There’s a girl who loves to learn, not because she feels she has to, but because she wants to know more about the brilliant chaos of our world. There’s a girl who would rather be happy than sad so she chooses to focus on the good, even if it means using a microscope. There’s a girl who dreams herself to be the night sky and an ocean and a hurricane not simply out of want to be something more, but because she knows that dreams have power. There’s a girl who never intends to stop talking or writing or choosing happiness as long as she is breathing, all in an attempt to search for some perfect form of better, or some better form of perfect. She knows this life is meant to be lived, and this is what makes the world come alive for her. When she opens her eyes and looks out at the dawn of possibility, she swears that nothing will weigh her down.

The Rising of the Tide

My grandmother always told me that if I was quiet enough at night, I would hear mermaids singing out on the rocks in the bay. As she sat in her chair, rocking in rhythm with what I was sure was the tide, she’d beckon for me to sit on the footstool beside her and she’d d406d7b903c3e30f3842b7799f95f8af-1lau818-300x204whisper the same stories her grandmother had told her when she was a girl.

Up until I was eighteen, I spent every summer with my grandmother. I’d leave my parents behind the mountains in favour of the British Columbian coast. They were not always eager to let me go, but I always went anyway. The tradition of spending my summers this way had etched itself into my bones in such a way that to not go would be to fight against every fibre of my being. There was a kind of calm to that sleepy house that melted all the stress in my life away the moment I stepped through the front door. All the anxieties I had about school and my future were simply washed away to the back corners of my mind where I would not have to touch them again until fall. Instead, my mind could lose itself in the wonder of my summer world.

At the centre of it all was my grandmother. She was by no means a soft woman, but there was something about her that always managed to make me feel at home. Something about her voice, the way it bubbled as clear and cool as a mountain spring, that lulled itself inside me, until the stories she spoke became the center of who I was as a person. Some people live in a world where numbers and formulas define the chaos of the universe, but for my grandmother and me everything could be explained through stories of sirens and spirit bears.

My life became a world spun of the sailor lore passed down through the family. My grandmother had learned it her grandmother who had learned from her husband; a man who knew the stories of the sea as well as the callouses of his hands. Of course, my grandmother told me, he always told his wife a watered-down version. He was a lenient man in many ways she said, but harshness on a lady’s ears was something he would not stand for. As my grandmother told me this, she’d almost laugh, lean back in her chair, take a long draw from her pipe, and say she wish she’d been told the original version of the story. She said there was something to be taken harshness and vulgarity; that it built armour for the mind and thickness for the skin. And that taking such things as offence was a matter of perspective. I never truly understood what she meant at the time. I think she understand I couldn’t quite grasp the concept, because after she said it there would be a pause, an exhale of smoke from her thin lips, and she would just know it was time to tell another story.

The favourite for both herself and I were the ones about mermaids. And not just the pretty ones with long blonde hair and purple tails, oh no. My grandmother was many things but she was never mundane. In her stories, mermaids were creatures to be reckoned with. Their teeth were sharp, they had tails like sharks, and should they get the chance, they would drown you. Despite all this, she warned me, they were the loveliest creatures on God’s green earth. And it was the loveliness more than anything else that made them deadly. You would become so entranced you would not recognize that they were luring you out into the waves to drown you.

The last summer I spent with my grandmother I must have heard her stories of mermaids a thousand times over. The story was always the same and yet it never failed to pull me in with all the comfort of a hug from an old friend. That story told through the voice an old woman became my safe space. It transported me from a world where I was not ready to face the future and instead whispered promises of a land without suffering. I had been the kind of person people characterized as a dreamer; so, I dreamt myself a world without adulthood or independence. I wanted a space where I only had to be a child kneeling by my grandmother and listening to her speak of a world far more interesting than the mundane. It was a space which gave me exactly what I asked, and more. It was as life-giving to me as the waters of a mother’s womb. So life giving, that I was certain that without my grandmother providing escape to me, I would perish in this world that I could never seem to understand and never seemed to understand me.

Perhaps it was because of my certainty that life decided to test me. Two weeks before the summer of my nineteenth year my grandmother’s time on this world ended. Though she had never been a sailor, she went out with the tide anyway.

For the first time in my life, I was without an anchor. I had lost the only form of escape I had ever known. I was shipwrecked. Marooned. Nothing more than a lifeboat left adrift in doldrums. It was as though every horrible sort of fate a sailor could have had been cast upon me. And here I was, left to face it all alone.

To say I didn’t know how to cope would be to put it mildly. The first two weeks of summer I felt lifeless, as though I no longer knew who I was or where I belonged in the world. I stayed inside and talked to no one. And finally, in the end, I could not deny the calling of the mermaids or my bones any longer. I bought a bus ticket, packed my bags and headed for my summer home.

It was not the same as it had been when I had last left it. There was an anxiety to the air now. Something had polluted its purity. All of culture’s worries and sickness must have clung to my skin and followed me here, and without the magic of my grandmother there was nothing left to keep them at bay. I remember collapsing to my knees in despair.
I must have sent a ripple of force through the room because at that moment my grandmother’s pipe, previously invisible to my eyes, clattered to the floor, and with the noise breaking a silence so pregnant it gave birth to a universal truth, I felt my grandmother’s final act of kindness. In that moment, I remembered not just what she had to say about the realm of the imagination, but on reality as well. How harshness and 00a3a904cb8302ee8216311435308d4c-z5lxhtcruelty were simply matters of perspective. That was when it hit me of how much of a mermaid I had made my grandmother out to be. I had taken her words and drunk them so deeply that I had been suffering of asphyxiation and did not even realize it. She had seen me drowning, done her best to save me, and then once she realized I did not want to be pulled to shore, she had thrown me one last life vest so I could swim myself to shore when the time finally came. In doing so, my grandmother worked her magic one last time.
That night, as I lay in my old room, I opened the bedroom window, swung it wide open. One of the last stories my grandmother had told me before she passed was that when a sailor returns home after a trip at sea, he should open his bedroom window because it allows good luck to grace him as he’s sleeping. As for myself, I had no desire to gain any sort of luck, good or bad. What I did want was to see if I could hear mermaids singing on the rocks by the bay and if their songs would tempt me. As I lay there, I swore I heard the faintest of whispers calling out to me. Promising me stories I could drown myself in until I was so deep in dream that I myself would practically be a fairy-tale.

Instead, I closed my eyes and pulled my bedsheets up around me, promising myself that when the sun rose tomorrow, I would come into reality as the tide came in.

Of Glass and Sand

The essence of Life is that it stops.

Like Sand in an Hour Glass

there is a finite amount of
Seconds, Breaths, Lungfuls of Air

that you as a Body get to take.

All grains of Sand.

We hold them in our fist,

and no matter how tightly or loosely,Screen-Shot-2013-11-01-at-3.50.02-PM

no matter the amount of space between our fingers,

that Sand will fall.

Sometimes we will notice,

and sometimes we will not.

Sometimes we will clench our fists

in an attempt for some control,

in an attempt to joust with Fate,

but all that will occur is an increase of slipping.

And sometimes we will come across the shards

of a Broken Hourglass

take that Glass and Metal lying at our feet

christen it art, poetry, literature, and inspiration

but all it will ever be is part of a Corpse’s story.

The remnants of of a container for something bigger.

We need to remember that.