03 May 2009

LotS: St. Joan of Arc

[Computer-assembled collage]

St. Joan of Arc's

heart pounds beneath breasts bound flat
by bandages, beneath her horizon blue tunic.
She's not scared. They've told her
the end already, hers and France's--not the generals,
who can only see geometry and despair:
the winged man with his sword and serpent,
the virgin whose skin steams, the woman
with the wheel who whispered the catechism
in her ear during the contest at Sacre-Coeur. Top
of her class, ahead of all the boys, but still
Jacques, Pierre--Pierre who can't tell a bishop
from his balls and prefers the latter anyway--served
the Mass of Thanksgiving when war finally
came that August, breaking out like the sun
from the clouds . . . well, no more. She serves
now with the boys, smoking their tobacco,
chucking dead men's boots at rats, lying awake
in mud while the sky pukes shell. For five months
this same trench, this same bloody river.
This morning, like the rest, they course
over the top like a wave. They flow like blood
across the field, fall where they run like rain,
by bullets like rain. Her chest stains purple but
she doesn't stop, she's almost there, she can see
the German gunner, reach out and touch the hissing gun.
The barrel burns like fire.

St. Joan of Arc (1412-31) began at thirteen to hear the voices of St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine of Alexandria; under their counsel she led French armies to defeat the occupying British at Orléans and Reims. Burned as a heretic, she was pardoned twenty-four years later.

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