SAINT JOAN OF ARC ON A POSTCARD
Here's Joan in her penitential bedsheet,
peeled of her armour, hair shorn,
wrapped round with string
like a boned rolled leg of lamb,
topped with a hat that looks like paper,
newspaper at that, but without the print,
a conical dunce cap.
Everything pale, hands, bare feet,
thin vestment, drained and blank,
white as the centre of a flare:
foreknowledge does that.
Some cleric putting a match to her.
Neither of them looks happy about it.
Once lit, she'll burn like a book,
like a book that was never finished,
like a locked-up library
Her two left-handed angels
and the ardent catchwords
they whispered into her ear —
Courage! Forward! King!
will burn as well.
Their voices will shrivel and blow away
in a scrawl of ash,
charred scraps of a dirty joke
in the long and dissolute narrative
people keep telling themselves about God,
and the watchers in the square will cheer,
incinerating her with their eyes,
since everyone likes a good bonfire
and a nice cry, some time afterwards.
It's you reading her now,
reading the Book of Joan.
What do you make of her?
Joan, the cocksure messenger,
or lunatic, or glassy sphere
containing a pure terse chapter
of a story with both ends missing?
You'll patch up some translation,
you and your desk-lamp lightbulbs,
you and your white-hot stare.
- Margaret Atwood