She is dreaming candlelight, a night here, a night there
fire eats the beeswax, seeking air, seeking air
she is wicking, she is wicked, doesn’t dare, doesn’t dare
to care about burning to the ground.
Tones of thunder funnel close and in the lightning’s stare
she can see it all clear and feel it drawing near
she’s a hare with shining eyes, galvanized, galvanized.
The wind is tearing loose every twisted limb
the hawks and owls are hiding and the land’s beyond repair
she is waiting, we are waiting, time is bare, time is rare,
time’s unfair and we are wearing very thin.
And in the fire she cried more than six times "Jesus," and above all with her last breath she cried in a loud voice "Jesus!" so that all present could hear her.
(Maugier Leparmentier, apparitor of the archepiscopal court, Rouen, May 30, 1431)
Because Joan first denied her Voices in the face of flames,
we know she chose, finally—chose to know the writhing
skin, the seared lungs, the boiled entrails, holy agony of a
melting mind. Given a second chance to die, she decided
to be a hero of God and the Hundred Years’ War. Twice
more they burned her charred body to erase the martyred
remains, but her cries were retrieved, forever translating
Opposable thumbs, they say, make the difference.
Laika was seared just hours into flight—another
slight young female stray, but devoid of voices
(though her name meant barker) and of choices.
Forced for months into ever smaller enclosures,
harnessed and chained in the capsule three days
till takeoff, she waited weightless for relief when
satellite, heat, and heart rate rose beyond bearing,
no witness to agony, or Jesus to justify suffering,
cremated 2570 orbits later on reentry to the sweet
air of Earth, declared a hero of humans and 1957’s
race for space. The failure of thermal control was
an awkward surprise; they had planned a poisoned
serving of food—Sputnik 2 was never designed for
Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
The shortest verse in the bible
sums up our lot and supposedly
Noah, Moses, Job—
God loves a good story.
But give us another moral,
one more short verse:
If you think I’d give the smallest joint
of any finger on my son’s left hand
for Trojan victory you’d be mistaken—
worse, for every child thrust off the walls
you’ll feel the rage of mothers everywhere.
For every cry he made before they robbed
him of his breath, I’d give my blood,
which, no, they bottled in my body safe
for conquering heroes’ rape. They gave
my child to death and me to wed the enemy
of my beloved Hector. Take me now I beg
you, drop me off the walls of Troy, New York,
or London, Telaviv, Baghdad, or blow me up
in transatlantic flight, but spare my Astyanax
his natural life.
For Counselor Cotsirilos,
The Trojan horse is deceptively named,
being, of course, Greek—much to the grief
of the Trojans. And you, my Greek friend,
have deceived us. I thought you would live
to a hundred but now we have only your soul
and that Trojan coffin, from which memories
steal out and seize us. We have sacrificed
on the altar your favorite vanilla ice cream
with chocolate sauce and more seriously
sung praises to your justice and kind acts,
rarer in lawyers than hens have teeth.
Now we throw white roses as the earth yawns,
then closes, and we are wiled with words
hollowed into effigies rolling through the gates
of all our walled fortresses. Your death left us
Her name is honor, her word forever
so she's surprised when he appears
with his beard untrimmed, chest wider,
shoulders heavy with the weight
of the water that carried all his men
to Poseidon, their eyes glazed with salt.
Yes, she guesses she still loves him.
It's hard to remember. Twenty years
is a long time. Not long for honor—she lived
with honor. Honor is a daily event, like
war for some selected Greeks and gods.
Honor showed her what a woman is.
Faith, love, charity can't sustain you when
you're besieged by dishonorable intentions,
by rowdy, drinking, stinking suitors
who haven't a hope of knowing there's no end
to unwinding one's woven shroud. Honor
is an intimate, a sustaining force when fury
fails to straighten the spine after sleepless
nights, the pillow wet with worry for a son
safe only by Spartan standards. Then,
when the tired sun rises, it's honor
that springs the fingers into action at
the day's weaving, at the morning's mocking loom.
Honor is the common core, like the dog
that waits beside the door. Now the dog
is dead, Odysseus is here, Telemachus is turning
her away from the heap of bodies arrowed
to the floor. Can honor live with love, can love
survive the tests of self-respect? She looks
at him, at them. Yes, she guesses Odysseus
Brute, my mother teases him,
and he rushes us with a roar.
Napping in her lap has left me warm.
Rosie, he calls her, and spills
petals over her head by dozens,
covering me with the scent, hers.
His is sharper, a pungent huntsman
smell still with him after walking wild
in the woods. He takes no one with him
but stalks restless in the wind,
returning softened to our garden, laden
with roses, resting his head on her arm
and holding my short shoulders
against his own. I am flowers and thorn,
born of Beauty and the Beast, and torn,
sometimes, between their sweet and sharp,
between head-sure and heart-fair. Where
is happily ever after, here or there?
The castle is secure, yet leaving it,
alluring. What enchantment keeps me
restless by day but scared of the dark?
Hold my hand and walk me to the park.
I don't know how I got stuck
with this job. Easter ducks
I can imagine, chickens, even bugs—
fish understand, being oviparous,
in a way that rabbits never can.
Yet here I am, scurrying around the country
loaded with hardboiled, fragile-shelled, loudly
colored eggs. Each basket begs to be dropped.
The noses of chocolate rabbits never twitch
with interest. Their ears do not flop, softly furred.
I find no kinship with this lot, neither cotton-
stuffed toy surprises nor waxy-grassed beds
of jelly beans. What human has mismatched those
who leap and those who plop? Rabbits must nest
but not lay. I am way out of my league delivering spring.
Four legs, four feet ache, and I understand why children
break but don't eat eggs.