Home > Transformation > St. Joan Speaks to Me

St. Joan Speaks to Me

August 8, 2008

I’m walking down the cobbled
streets of Rouen. Cabbage leaves
blacken in the gutters.
In the square they are burning

Joan of Arc. Her eyes are
transparent with light. Through veils
of flame she says, Truth is a torch,
but it makes a beautiful blaze.

The crowd is weeping.
With charred lips of light
she says, A dead body
is only a dead body.

How can we tell ash from soul
unless we too rise,
a blue heron of smoke
slanting into flight ā€”

that pulse of a wing so slow,
so soaring when she says,
We are all burning.
Be a greater fire.

by Oriana

Reading by Beth Adams — Download the MP3

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  1. August 10, 2008 at 1:37 am

    Such a beautiful poem. A great combination of fire and light.

  2. August 10, 2008 at 3:48 am

    Truly beautiful, I love that ‘blue heron of smoke’ image, and the way it’s extended.

  3. August 10, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I love this poem. It bears multiple readings and stays fresh. I love the first stanza particularly — the common beginning, the viewpoint believably someone looking down at the street (the cabbage leaves in the gutter!) and then stumbling on the scene.
    I think it’s the well-grounded start and point of view that allows this poem to transform as the speaker becomes involved in the scene, and takes on the simple and powerful last line — so powerful because the transformation (of the speaker) has already occurred. It becomes a statement of faith for moving on.
    Thank you for this poem.

  4. Una Hynum
    August 10, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Lovely! I’ve alway loved this poem and happy to see it in print. Una

  5. August 10, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Say, this is a beautiful poem — the condensation fits the subject and allows the lyricism of the of the poem come to forefront. Congratulations on your achievement — another gem in your extensive ouvre.

    Billie Dee

  6. Brenda Hammack
    August 12, 2008 at 8:49 am

    I’ve always loved the affective mysticism of the medieval period–and I’m impressed by the way Oriana’s poem retains the emotional, sensual characteristics of that genre. The opening prepares the reader for something grotesque (the image of rotting cabbage in streets), then shifts into resplendence.

  7. Karen
    August 12, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    “How can we tell ash from soul/unless we too rise . . .”

    The above is like a little blue bead that my mind
    has been tossing and spinning; a toy, a motto, a Koan.

  8. Janet McCann
    August 13, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Wow! This is a knockout poem!

  9. Dayna
    August 13, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    A haunting poem. Am thinking that her torch was too bright for the darkness of this world.

    They burned them, saints, women, witches, so as not to spill blood.

  10. Kimi
    August 15, 2008 at 10:19 am

    The allusions that this poem provides are breathtakingly beautiful while simultaneously sad. Like her other poems, I love the way I learn something every time I read one. Each poem is a little gift of insight and knowledge. Thank you.

  11. August 20, 2008 at 10:35 am

    The use of the word ‘slanting’ is just so brilliant and unexpected, as is the image of the heron that everyone else commented on. I am also struck by the absence of quote mark tics or even italics in her three statements – it makes her message – which is of course the poet’s message – stand out more.

  12. starrg
    August 20, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Reminds me of the haunting Falconetti in Dreyer’s Jeanne d’Arc- the passion which is of course means suffering-

  13. August 23, 2008 at 6:38 am

    Great poem, well executed!

  14. Steve McDonald
    September 29, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Oriana’s poetry is always filled with a haunting beauty–and this one is no exception. The movement from the grounded images in stanza one (which Becky points out) to the transcendent “blue heron of smoke” is remarkable. I really love the line endings in stanza one–“cobbled,” “Cabbage leaves,” and “gutters” are so physical and down to earth, leading ultimately to St. Joan’s observation: “A dead body / is only a dead body.” And then the speaker’s wonderful observation: “How can we tell ash from soul / unless we too rise . . .” I suppose that’s what this poem is all about, as many of Oriana’s gems are–how to tell ash from soul.

  15. February 7, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Yes, an amazing poem that leaves us with questions – who will rise and who will remain ash. The physical/concrete & spiritual are so beautifully woven here. I noticed a change in the third stanza in the recorded version and I like it, but I also loved the strong image of the charred lips. But the “of light” was a stretch for me to visualize. Is there a way to still have the charred lips as well? Thanks Oriana. You are a star, rising!

    • oriana
      February 7, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      this is the stanza now:

      The crowd is weeping.

      Her lips are charred

      doors of light. She says,

      A dead body is only a dead body.


      The stanza with the charred lips is straight from the dream which inspired the poem. Many of my poems have the subtext of contemplated suicide. Jeanne d’Arc is my patron saint (though later I discovered Jeanne de Chantal, a less flamboyant but also unnerving, as saints often are), so it’s significant that St. Joan warns me, A dead body is only a dead body. It was one of the most amazing dreams I ever had.

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