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.

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.