La Coursier de Jeanne D'Arc

You know that they burned her horse 
before her. Though it is not recorded,
you know that they burned her Percheron 
first, before her eyes, because you

know that story, so old that story, 
the routine story, carried to its 
extreme, of the cruelty that can make 
of what a woman hears a silence,

that can make of what a woman sees 
a lie. She had no son for them to burn, 
for them to take from her in the world 
not of her making and put to its pyre,

so they layered a greater one in front of 
where she was staked to her own-- 
as you have seen her pictured sometimes, 
her eyes raised to the sky. But they were

not raised. This is yet one of their lies. 
They were not closed. Though her hands 
were bound behind her, and her feet were 
bound deep in what would become fire,

she watched. Of greenwood stakes 
head-high and thicker than a man's waist 
they laced the narrow corral that would not 
burn until flesh had burned, until

bone was burning, and laid it thick 
with tinder--fatted wicks and sulphur, 
kindling and logs--and ran a ramp 
up to its height from where the gray horse

waited, his dapples making of his flesh 
a living metal, layers of life 
through which the light shone out 
in places as it seems to through the flesh

of certain fish, a light she knew 
as purest, coming, like that, from within. 
Not flinching, not praying, she looked 
the last time on the body she knew

better than the flesh of any man, or child, 
or woman, having long since left the lap 
of her mother--the chest with its 
perfect plates of muscle, the neck

with its perfect, prow-like curve, 
the hindquarters'--pistons--powerful cleft 
pennoned with the silk of his tail. 
Having ridden as they did together

--those places, that hard, that long-- 
their eyes found easiest that day 
the way to each other, their bodies 
wedded in a sacrament unmediated

by man. With fire they drove him 
up the ramp and off into the pyre 
and tossed the flame in with him. 
This was the last chance they gave her

to recant her world, in which their power 
came not from God. Unmoved, the Men 
of God began watching him burn, and better, 
watching her watch him burn, hearing

the long mad godlike trumpet of his terror, 
his crashing in the wood, the groan 
of stakes that held, the silverblack hide, 
the pricked ears catching first

like driest bark, and the eyes. 
and she knew, by this agony, that she 
might choose to live still, if she would 
but make her sign on the parchment

they would lay before her, which now 
would include this new truth: that it 
did not happen, this death in the circle, 
the rearing, plunging, raging, the splendid

armour-colored head raised one last time
above the flames before they took him
--like any game untended on the spit--into
their yellow-green, their blackening red.

Copyright © 2002 by Linda McCarriston. Published 2002 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.