by Gregory Dolnikowski
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By Joanna Sit
He was just a boy who liked to sing
and lit up his songs with bottle rockets
and spit fire over the audience.
Once he dressed a scarecrow in a white
linen suit and burned it on stage,
setting the nightclub in flames,
and she watching him, watched
the effigy, yet even with her rapture
unleashed, she knew. This kind
of heat had no bones, no proof.
It could never live.
It wasn’t like she didn’t warn him, knowing
his propensity to put the match to everything
when he sings or lies. She allowed him to, however,
make the choice and he made the wrong one.
Not the one where he gave his new girl her gold
dress but the earlier one, the pivotal one
that led to this one. And she’ll always remember
the tune he was singing when he misfired
and lit the dress, a lovely dirge by which to dance
for the burning girl whose burning dress slid
from her burning skin, which slid from her burning
flesh, which slid from her burning bone.
Looking in from Flatbush Ave
at the ten h.d. t.v.s tuned to the same
scene, watching over and over
the burning towers, the iron planes, comatosed,
watching while the mind closes itself
to the lovely day, and to those coming loose
from the windows, falling away from the flame.
so horribly and cruelly used
that my clean body, never
yet defiled, must
this day be burnt
and turn to ashes! I would rather be
beheaded seven times than suffer
Later, she makes straight
for the Revlon aisle, one glove on,
the other, lost.
In the video, it’s apparent that
she already knows what
would happen because she makes
no secret of sliding that Cherries
in the Snow lipstick into the glove,
palm side up, her sighs visible
in the camera – she sees her own image
on the lens, amidst transgression
too burnt out
Nothing else came in between –
not money, not muscle,
not smarts, only beauty –
a flighty thing by all accounts –
won by a good-for-nothing dandy
with too much time on his hands.
And the apple, which Aphrodite held
out idly as temptation, something
she often does to pass the mortal
time. She knows, like we all know,
everyone needs love. And in love
was Hephaestus in his cave, forging armors
and helmets, sheets and sheets of metal
shimmering between anvil and hammer,
outfitting all the Grecian bloodlust
and Trojan slaughter, meanwhile
bearing his own wrecked heart
like a medal on the iron
sleeve, in all that heat
it was a different kind of hell
where he stamped his own fever
for his wife the goddess,
destroyer from the sea.
On every shield and breastplate
consigned to the heroes Achilles,
Odysseus, he inscribed in secret
which ten years later would create
more tragedy when Dido
the queen, polishing Aeneas’s armor
in the evening, noticed the engraving
on the side of the cuirass which he
ripped from Hector’s shredded corpse.
Before she could ask who was,
Aeneas lifted his handsome head
to announce his departure. He was leaving
the pyre she ran into; he was turning
away from the smoke to save himself
the trouble of love.
On television, the man runs into the burning
rubble. The camera picks him up again
at the other end, running out
dragging some small boy behind
while he himself mutates into a torch
of flesh. Such small journeys
through empty streets where
the crowd really goes crazy
when the flame that was the man
falls from the scorched daylight.
Later, it was found that he wasn’t
always the good samaritan, the martyred
saint but a thief who took the occasion
of the fire to loot the store
but didn’t count on the trapped boy
calling to him. Mean
Beatrice leans on her cane
he won’t get to heaven.
how it would end, and in the end,
turning the lipstick over
in her palm, she admitted
her ruin and despair to
those who listened.
Was she even a year old when she had her first
fever, back in the village, unconscious
while her mother put the lit punk between
her eyebrows to burn the pyrexia out?
Was she twelve that year when her neck
was stretched from the white lace collar
of her communion dress and the holy water
pooled like sin should on the cratered scars
above the eyes?
It’s the night of Ash
Wednesday. She lights her last
smoke of the season on the roof,
the night of salt and grapes past
all recollection; its meaning frayed
too by song and requiem.
She has been guilty for so long
now; beyond atonement, in fact.
But she makes the sign
of the cross anyway and crushes
the last cigarette embers under her shoe.
Everything done for love has been
done now and everyone is guilty.
No redemption left in history
but the retelling of its worn
out hunger in the forsaken theatre,
shattered moments over
and over in the empty room.
*From Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words. Compiled and translated by Willard Trask. Turning Point Books: New York, 1996. p. 143.