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.

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.

Requiem for Loneliness: An Emulation of Dr. Seuss


The following is an emulation of Dr. Seuss based on an excerpt from his book 
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! As graduation approaches, I find this work strikes a chord in me about my fears as to what I am about to leave behind. The following emulation is an attempt to comment on that. All words are my own, with the exception of the first stanza in italics, which is the work of Dr. Seuss himself. 


All alone!
Whether you like it or not,
alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

At first you won’t like it.
That’s simple to say.
Alone is something we’re taught
to avoid every day.

But sooner or later
you’ll be by yourself
and find that there is
immense value and wealth
in sitting in silence
and learning to listen.
The world breathes in with a sigh
and out with a hiss.

And then comes a calm,
of a most glorious sort,
where you are king of the castle,
queen of the fort in your heart,
and the master of your mind.
In quiet we learn
to be patient and kind.

By yourself you can learn
how to get to know you,
and really
that’s the only time you get to.

So learn to take loneliness
into your arms as a friend.
Sooner or later
it will come to an end.

And after,
as you step into the sun,
you’ll hear all hearts of the world
beating as one.

Haunting

I am the words you put to me.
Just as a song becomes a symphony,
a book becomes a trilogy,
a drop of water pools and pulses at the center of the ocean,
I am a sum of my parts.

And every title, every label, every clothesline of words
pins to my heart and billows in the wake of my breath.
Words are inescapable.
They are the most invasive of house guests, as they pay no heed
to call times of convenience when they kick the front door down
and take it upon themselves to remodel your house.

And then there will be times where they won’t appear at all.
They vanish so fast you’d swear they were smoke,
only the detector tells your mind it is lying to itself.
All that is real is what we can hear, see, and feel,
and this absolute absence haunts like a ghost intent
on pushing all my furniture an inch to the left.

I try to calibrate my property worth,
but my addition signs become ellipses as I search for
a common language between
mathematics and poetry.
There are times when they translate like twins, and times when
they could not be more polar.
How do you find the value of ‘x’
when all you can quantify it as is
the negative value of a poltergeist?

I am the words you put to me.
The words I put to myself count as well,
but I am sorely lacking.
All I can hear is the memory of a creaky floorboard 
that has long since stopped squeaking.
So, I am waiting to be haunted.
Waiting for a train to rumble down the track,
to blow the whistle
that will wake what makes lights flicker.
Waiting for the ghoul in the basement
to beat out a rhythm on water-pipes that I can dance to.

I wait for love.
I have known it most when I am possessed by some
otherworldly force, so I try to replicate what it means
to be a host.
The doors are left wide open in hopes of something settling in,
but I am robbed instead.
This is not an exorcism I asked for.
I was content with all that would
drag me to the rooftops and let me dangle there.
The view is lovely.

I am the words you put to me.
All I can see are ‘For Sale’ signs.
With a fresh coat of paint and some elbow grease,
I’ll be good as new.
Just another house-number along a generic string
of mahogany doors and terracotta tiles.
Miles upon miles of respectable neighborhoods,
void of originality.
But I am not content
to exist without my soul.

I miss my ghosts.
I miss the way they would shake my bed
as they rocked me to sleep the only way they knew how.
I miss their breath on my neck, and the caress of their fingertips,
urging my pen to move.

There are times when I get so lonely for them,
I climb up to the rooftops and just
dangle there.
Waiting for my body to contort as I let myself drop
into the safety net of words I have pulled taunt
on the clothesline.

Writing is a tide in how it ebbs and flows;
I don’t doubt its return to me.
Still, I cannot survive without depth for much longer.
As I bake in the sun, all I can recall
is the cool touch of spirit fingers.
I cannot be anything if I am lacking
the most integral part of my blueprint.
Houses cannot stand without walls to brace them,
and I have found my footing in
the voice that spills from my mouth.
To be a medium for the muses, and then just to be
is an unfinished sentence.
The song that could have been, cut down to
disjointed notes and a pitch out of tune.
The book is an anthology of empty pages now.
Existence is the  daunting white space of page breaks
that loom, consequently fracturing my soul.

Who am I without my phantoms?
It is an honest question.
How do I stand when I’ve lost my grounding?
Can my design be rewritten to work without walls?
Do I even want this?
Happiness and haunting
have become synonyms for me.
This lack of words births a limbo so slick
that I claw myself a few syllables away from escape 
only to fall back into silence,
gutted and hollow.
I’ve spent so long in haunted houses,
I can’t appreciate silence in the home.
The blankness in the void it leaves,
scares me more than any horror movie I have ever seen.
Give me kaleidoscope floors and a rattling roof any day.
I will take them without question.
The collection of bits for who I am solidified
by all that is put to me, and hopelessly in love
with the glowing eyes under my bed.

(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.)

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.

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 Storm of My Life

The following is an emulation of Anne Sexton’s poem The Room of My Life. For those who haven’t read the poem, I highly recommend it.


Here,

in the storm of my life

the world has been swallowed by a hurricane.

Gulls cry out.

Animalistic kinship draws dolphins and whales to breach waves,

whose crest is a kiss between water and sky.

Each time they touch a void of chaos lingers as aftertaste.

The salt spray: a means to rub dead skin from body.

The wind: a hand extended to sunken locker.

The water: waiting to gulp down a soup of ships and sailors.

Captain and crew, exhausted in an attempt to stay afloat.element-laptop-waves-ocean-storm-elements-foam

The searchlight on shore: a blazing torch to call all home.

The doors of Heaven and Hell are blown wide open

until they catch in the crossfire and slam shut,

birthing the Void

that resides upon Earth

and within me.

I feed the rise and fall of waves,

offering up to stormclouds the feast that is my mind.

The lightning is  the jolt of my heartbeat and thunder is my soul

crashing on and on in my chest.

 

 

Thoughts on the Miracle of Life

They say when a person is born they are eighty percent water.

Behind the curling toes and dimpled fists there is

a river

a lake

an ocean.

They say when a person is born they cry out of instinct.

The purpose to inflate the set of lungs they have

yet

to

use.

Until birth, a baby will have only ever drawn breath through the lungs of another.

And when we come into this world screaming,

fighting

for

breath

we diverge from Mother channel and forge our own waterways.

Up until that point we were all kept alive by

another

person’s

heartbeat.

But at birth we take fate into our own dimpled fists,

and make Life from water and sound.

baby-hand2