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Get Inspired By This Sneak Peek of ‘The Language of Fire’

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Get Inspired By This Sneak Peek of ‘The Language of Fire’

Get Inspired By This Sneak Peek of 'The Language of Fire'

The Language of Fire by Stephanie Hemphill is this dark, moving, lyrical novel in verse that we can’t quite get over. A fictionalized look at the life of Joan of Arc, The Language of Fire follows Jehanne, an illiterate peasant who one day hears a voice call to her, telling her she is destined for important things. She begins to understand that she has been called by God, chosen for a higher purpose—to save France.

Yes please! In a time where women had nothing—no power, no voice, no agency at all—Jehanne rises up, leading an army of men, despite all the odds stacked against her. She is hella inspirational and her voice is so strong.

Told in a series of vignettes, The Language of Fire is beautiful, heartbreaking, and ready to be added to your bookshelf! Take a scroll to start reading this epic tale now!

THE LIGHT THAT SPARKS THE FIRE ON FIRE

May 30, 1431

When they ignite my stake

I expect the fire

to speak—

through so many dreams

flames have beckoned me

like a drum.

After hearing and heeding His voice,

I thought at the end

God might call out

my name.

I hoped angels

would sing and shelter me

with wings of comfort.

But this blaze roars

without consolation,

without words.

Perhaps I am beyond

words now.

Even the crowd,

who howled like starving dogs

before my pyre was lit,

stands solemn and silent.

The only sound

piercing the smoky air

is the scream of a girl

named Jehanne.

But

I became so much more.

THIRTEEN AND FUMBLING

1425

I have always been a duck

fumbling in a flock of geese.

But I try to fit in.

I learn to sew and spin,

to craft soap from sheep’s tallow,

to tend, cook, thresh, and plow.

Like my older sister, Catherine,

I’m taught all my mother’s chores.

I want to fit in

like my friends

Hauviette and Isabellette.

I try to think like they do

about which boy is best,

but I find this game more boring

than soap.

Why should I coo

about boys who tease me

when I outrun them in a race?

Colin and Marc call me strange,

Jehanne with lanky bird legs.

My sister says teasing

means they like me.

But I know their words

are wasps, not honey,

aimed to wound me

just because I’d rather run

than watch.

Most days I feel like

I don’t fit the sleeves

of my own dress.

How am I to belong?

NOTHING TO DO

“Did you ever wish

to be something

besides a wife and mother?”

Mengette looks at me

as though my teeth

just fell out of my mouth.

“Oh, you mean like a nun?

No, not me. Not even

if I lost my dear Collot.

But I wouldn’t hope

for that, cousin. Your father

wants you to marry a man,

not the church.”

I know she’s right,

but there’s a restless

thrumming in my chest,

as if boredom and this little village

might swallow me whole.

The noon chapel bells toll.

I close my eyes and imagine

the chimes call forth

a great army of angels

riding valiant white steeds,

and I am among them.

“My mother made a pilgrimage

to Rome when she was a girl.

Maybe I can do that too?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jehanne.

France is at war.

That’s too dangerous a trip for a man,

let alone a girl from Lorraine.

Just be content as you are.”

I turn away from Mengette.

The sun hides behind

a patch of billowy clouds

as the bells fall silent.

Even if I can’t change

the direction of the wind,

why must I agree

that foul air smells sweet?

AGAINST THE GRAIN

It’s not as if I ask to be

the girl on the margins,

the one going left

where others turn right.

Mother says I’m just sensitive.

I see and hear things

when others are blind and deaf.

But sometimes I wish

my ears would stay closed.

When I overhear my brother Jean say,

“Jehanne is so odd. Perhaps

something’s wrong with her,”

I wish I could unhear those words.

HISTORY OF A COUNTRY DIVIDED

For as long as

cattle have grazed our fields,

and church bells tolled

at midday meal,

France has been fighting

over who should rule our nation.

Generations of warfare

have divided my country

into a patchwork quilt

of loyalty.

Armagnacs who support the dauphin

stand on one side of the battlefield,

and French Burgundians

who ally with the English

occupy the other.

My family lives

at the edge of this conflict,

hundreds of miles from Paris

and even farther from Chinon,

where the dauphin Charles resides.

Our village, Domrémy,

nestles inside the only territory

of Armagnac support

in the northeast.

In constant combat

with our Burgundian neighbors,

lands are lost and gained

as rapidly as tides rise in a flood.

But somehow

my family always rebuilds.

It’s the bruised and broken

French countryside

whose suffering knows no end.

SAFER THAN MOST

Our family has always been set apart.

We live in a stone house,

not a wooden one like everyone else.

It doesn’t burn

when English soldiers

ravage our village like wolves.

My father, Jacques d’Arc,

is dean of Domrémy,

tallies the tax money.

Father says that makes us more

responsible for our country and others.

We give shelter to travelers, alms to the poor,

because we can.

But even at a safe retreat

from the marauding and the battles,

with the village’s pigs corralled

behind a fortress on the River Meuse,

I smell fire.

Ashes shower from the sky,

blot out the sun,

and blacken my home

in a relentless rain of dirt.

FIRE

It’s always the same dream—

English soldiers

brandishing angry torches.

The wooden beams

of our barn ignite

into a cage of flames.

And I’m trapped in the rafters.

I scream until my lungs explode,

but no one hears me.

No one arrives to help.

The devilish heat licks my boots,

kindles my hair.

My dress blooms

into a blazing carpet.

The ground beneath the barn

opens as a wound,

and I’m swallowed

straight to hell.

I wake in wild sweats.

What does this dream mean?

MY FRIEND

Hauviette and I have been friends

since we could crawl.

She grabs my hand

and twirls me into a dance,

whistles back at

a cackling woodpecker

as she braids narcissi

into my hair.

She tells me I should smile more,

that it makes me more attractive.

Boys don’t like girls

to always be so serious.

Nothing ever troubles Hauviette.

Not the enemy threatening us

across the river,

not the lack of grain

in her father’s silo,

not her sinful behavior

flirting with my brother Jean

during yesterday’s mass,

and certainly

not the staidness

of a woman’s place

in village life.

Sometimes I envy her.

Sometimes

I want to shake her

from her bliss

and slumber.

But I wonder:

Could I wake her

even if I tried?

BEING A GIRL

If I could stay a girl forever,

that would be fine.

There is liberty

in not being a wife or mother.

But growing into a woman,

I want no part of that.

It’s like our crops

when they die.

You produce fruit,

then wither away.

My sister Catherine

is a woman today,

and she and Mother

celebrate it.

I want to stay young

and pure and free,

unstained by the sin of Eve.

Mother and Catherine

laugh that I will

change my mind

in a few years,

but I know better.

MY THREE BROTHERS

Jacquemin is my eldest sibling

and my father’s favorite.

He will soon be married

and move to Vouthon,

where Mother was born.

He is kind to me,

but he worries more

than all the villagers in Domrémy

put together.

I tell Jacquemin

if he prayed more often,

he might not look always

over his shoulder.

My brother sees clouds threatening storms

but misses the beauty of the rain.

Even though we share the same name,

my other older brother, Jean,

and I are nothing alike.

Jean believes that he is the best

at everything. He never fears loss.

My friends find him handsome,

but I think he’s rude.

Jean forgets

to kick the mud off his boots

before he enters the house.

He just expects his mess

will be tended by others.

Pierre is the baby

of the family

and wild as a boar.

Always in motion,

he uses his fists

before his mind.

Only a year younger

than me in age,

yet he and I stand

a decade of wisdom

apart.

Not one

of my three brothers

realizes how fortunate

he is to be a boy.

ALONE

In the pasture beyond our farm

I hide under the high grass and spy.

Hauviette and my brother Jean

stand beside each other,

so close a breath

could not fit between them.

I wonder what that feels like,

to have someone look at you

the way Jean stares at my friend,

as though Hauviette alone exists.

They’re in a meadow

rich with animals, trees, sunlight—

yet she is all to him.

I will know the same feeling

my sister promises

when the time is right.

But sometimes I worry

that like my brother said,

something is wrong with me

and I’ll never understand

that kind of love.

Even worse, maybe

I don’t care.

ONE GIRL’S PRAYER

Sometimes I wish

I could be like my sister and friends,

lining a trousseau

with the joy and anticipation

of Christmas morn.

Sometimes I wish

I could be like my brothers,

reckless as cattle run astray

yet able to own property

and speak my mind.

I feel like a book

that will never be read.

I contain wisdom,

but no one will open me

to discover it.

And I’ll never

have the schooling

to read it myself.

MY THIRTEENTH SUMMER

1425

After a morning tilling the field

with my brothers,

I escape to my father’s garden.

Flowers stretch toward the clouds,

humming with insects and color.

Everything smells golden and round.

I feel like I belong here.

Roses and radishes don’t judge—

they only radiate God’s love.

Something stirs in the corner,

a rustling of leaves,

a great flash of light—

but when I look,

I find nothing, no one.

Jehanne,

a voice calls out

clear as a church bell.

“Who’s there?”

Jehanne!

someone cries,

and the sky flares

as if it’s lit

by a thousand suns.

I search every flower bed,

every inch of soil,

but I’m alone.

Jehanne,

I hear again.

“Who speaks to me?

Where are you?”

I get no response.

NOTHING TO SPEAK ABOUT

“You look pale, Jehanne,”

Mother says, and places

her hand on my temple.

“Do you feel well?”

I resist pushing away

her hand.

I’m not sure

what just happened

in the garden

or what’s been stirring

inside me lately, bubbling over

like an untended broth,

but it’s probably best

not to speak about it.

I fear no one, not even

my mother, would understand.

I must have imagined

someone called my name,

but it sounded very real.

JUST BEFORE SUPPER

Father blusters into the house.

“The Burgundian

governor-general of Barrois

attacked Sermaize.”

Mother stumbles,

and my sister and I

steady her into a chair.

Father removes his hat

and lowers his voice.

“Collot Turlot was killed.”

I bite the inside

of my cheek.

Collot is

my cousin Mengette’s husband

and served as an Armagnac soldier.

My father’s eyes avoid everyone.

They settle instead on the dusty floor.

Tears streak my mother’s face.

She makes no attempt

to wipe them away,

as if she wishes to feel drenched

in her suffering.

Father sighs.

“When our enemy approaches,

we French open our gates.”

My brother Jean slaps

the table and says loudly,

“The dauphin should take up the fight!

Why does he do nothing?”

“I suppose warfare is best left

to kings and soldiers.

We are farmers and herdsmen.

What do we know?”

Father dabs the sweat off his brow.

“You are the dean of Domrémy,

Father. You know as much

as anyone about what goes on,”

my brother Jacquemin offers.

My father pats Jacquemin’s back.

He slides into his chair

and reaches for his bowl.

“What do I smell,

mutton and barley?”

Still weeping, Mother nods.

I feel like knocking over the table.

Why do we French do nothing?

How can my father not wish to act?

I think the English have poked

cet ours dormant, this sleeping bear,

one too many times. I blurt out,

“Someone needs to fight back!”

Even though my words mimic

my brother Jean’s,

around the room eyes bulge

larger than a family of toads’.

I have spoken outside my scope,

not at all in the manner of a girl.

My family sits silent, uncomfortably still,

for many heartbeats.

Father snaps at me,

“Bless the food, Jehanne.”

My throat clenches like a fist.

Still I close my eyes and pray,

“Bless us, O Lord . . .”

LOST LAMB

Instead of helping Mother

around the house and in the stables

this week, I’m told to tend the sheep.

I fear this may be

some sort of punishment

for my brash behavior the other night,

because as much as I like solitude,

I’ve never loved this job,

minding the pastures

so none of the flock wander

too far afield.

The day seems to double its length.

I bring my spinning wheel

to busy my hands,

and so I won’t fall asleep

on soft pillows of prairie grass.

It’s been nearly a week since

I heard my name called in the garden.

I want to believe the voice was real,

but more likely my ears deceived me.

“Stop!” I holler.

“Rascal lamb, come back here!

There are wolves in the woods.”

I drop my spinning

and start to chase after the vagrant lamb.

Yet if I run down the one,

I leave the rest of the herd alone.

Do I leave the flock or lose the wanderer?

But because girls

are raised not to act,

just to remain quietly

with the pack,

I do nothing.

CAN ANYTHING CHANGE?

No soldier worth his salt

sits on his hands,

gun stuffed between thighs,

and waits to be attacked.

He is not fool enough

to believe doing nothing

will effect change

in this war,

in the lives of his countrymen.

The English have stolen parts of France,

and we must fight to reclaim

what is rightfully ours,

recover our lost lambs from the woods.

But wars are the work of men—

what of mothers and daughters?

Are we expected to watch

as fields and families

are destroyed,

and do nothing?

Can this truly be God’s plan?

PURPOSE

When I feel ready to pummel

Jean and Pierre because, once again,

they left the gate open,

and I had to spend half my morning

chasing down a dozen feisty pigs,

Mother reminds me that

along with the squealing swine

I must seek patience.

I muzzle my lips

as I corral the hogs.

Sometimes my life feels as fixed

as that of the pigs I pen.

Have I no higher purpose

than filling slop trays?

I cross myself and pray

that I may understand my place

and find contentment therein.

In response, the same voice

I heard in the garden tells me:

Jehanne,

you are meant to do something more.

WITHOUT HOPE

Our house staggers

with the weight

of Father’s news.

Normandy has fallen

to the English.

Seven thousand killed

at Verneuil.

Five of our men died

for each one of theirs.

My brother Jacquemin

lowers his head.

“The dauphin will resign

completely now.”

Father agrees.

“They say the dauphin

no longer believes

he has God’s favor.”

His words crumble with sorrow

like gravel upon the floor.

I run to Mother.

I dare not speak my mind

as I did the other day.

I see by her quivering lip

that she could not bear it.

“I heard something curious in town,”

my sister, Catherine, says

with a voice so steady it’s unnerving.

“Remember that old prophecy

the mystic Marie of Avignon foretold:

that France will be restored

by a virgin from Lorraine

called La Pucelle?”

“What of it?” Jean snips.

“Some think it will soon be made true.

Perhaps if the dauphin Charles were reminded

of the prophecy, he would find hope,”

Catherine offers.

My father kisses Catherine’s cheek.

“You are a sweet daughter,

but what the dauphin needs

is a victorious army

to regain his hope.”

Of course Father praises

Catherine’s words

when he slammed his fist

down upon mine.

Sometimes being the younger daughter

feels like I am a bird

with clipped wings.

The voice from the garden startles me

when it says:

Jehanne, you are the prophecy,

the virgin from Lorraine

who will save France.

I look around to see

if anyone else hears these words,

but I am the only one.

How can that be?

The voice sounds as though

someone stands beside me.

My hold on Mother

grows tighter than a noose.

Have I lost my wits?

NO SLEEP FOR THE CONFLICTED

I lie near the hearth tonight

because I offered my bed

to a weary traveler

who needs its comfort

more than I do.

I toss right, roll left,

but I can’t find a position to sleep.

I can’t stop questioning

whether the voice I heard

spoke the truth.

Could I be the girl of the prophecy

who will save France?

Or perhaps I imagined those words

because I was jealous

that Father praised Catherine?

The main fire dies,

so I jump up to restore it.

As I move toward the chimney,

the flames blaze up

in a fiery dragon’s tongue.

Terrified, I search for a bucket of water.

The fire grows stronger. I need help.

But before I can jostle anyone awake,

the firelight envelops me,

wraps me in a blanket

of the softest down.

Blazes swirl around the room,

setting alight pots, chairs,

my father’s cloak.

All the furniture glows like candles.

And then, as though called to order,

the flames disappear.

They leave not a trace of ash or ember.

A single radiant light

shines above me

like a sky of only stars.

As I bask in the beam,

the voice only I can hear

confirms last night’s premonition.

It tells me:

Do not doubt this, Jehanne.

You are the girl from the old prophecy.

You will be called La Pucelle.

You will lead an army.

And you will save France.

It’s clear to me now

who speaks inside my head—

it must be God.

DOUBT

I was convinced last night

that the voice I heard was God,

but today doubt creeps

into my mind

like a long afternoon shadow.

I am just a lowly peasant girl.

Who am I to be chosen

to save France?

The idea is surely folly

fueled by my longing

to be more than I am.

But then again,

what if the voice

I heard is indeed God,

and I fail to do

what he asks of me?

It would be a grave sin

to disobey God.

My mind whirls

like dust clouds in a storm.

My friends dance and sing,

throwing grass in a silly game.

Hauviette calls to me,

but I don’t know

what to say to her.

All my words

trap inside my head.

I wave hello but walk alone.

My only place of sanctuary

is the Saint-Rémy village church.

Crystal light breaks

through slats in the roof,

warms and comforts me from above.

On my knees in the chapel

I close my eyes and pray.

I touch the floor,

the wood of the bench,

and feel balance,

forget the dizziness of the world.

And when I gaze up at the cross,

I know

sure as the bell tolls,

the horse whinnies,

and the stars crowd the midnight moon,

that God speaks to me

and I must, and I will,

do as He commands.

FULFILLING THE PROPHECY

1426

Over time I begin to accept

that I am the girl

of the old prophecy.

But if so,

what should I do?

I bite my nails

and tread unending circles.

Why didn’t the voice give me

better direction?

Fulfilling a prophecy

feels more overwhelming

than plowing a field

with a fork.

I suppose God would, at minimum,

require that I continue to:

be good

be pious

and go to church often,

but what else?

My little brother, Pierre,

and his friend Colin

stagger up the road

and interrupt my reverie.

They return from Maxey,

a neighboring town

under Burgundian control.

Black-eyed and trouser-torn,

the boys look like someone

ran over them with an oxcart.

“Can you stitch up this hole

at my knee before Mother sees?”

Pierre asks me.

“Father forbade you to fight.”

Pierre rolls his eyes.

“But I’ll mend the damage.”

He winces as I brush

the hair off his forehead

and reveal a nasty gash.

Pierre pushes away my hand.

“It’s nothing.”

Colin smiles. “We showed

those Burgundy louts,

pelted them with boulders.”

Pierre jumps in.

“He means rocks,

pebbles really.

Besides, they started it.

They’re the bad ones.”

I catch him glaring at Colin

as I thread my needle.

“When real fighting surrounds us,

why do you play at war?”

Colin spits purposefully

into the dirt. “You’re a girl.

You wouldn’t understand.”

Pierre shrugs.

“We fight or they win.”

He examines his pant leg.

Whether or not

Pierre and Colin believe me,

I do understand

their desire to fight back.

Still I counsel, “Little brother,

try to stay out of trouble.”

As they run off,

I wonder if I shouldn’t

heed my own words.

Is it not headstrong and conceited

to think that I am La Pucelle?

To believe that a girl might save France?

JEAN THE MEAN

I will likely never see

my eldest brother again.

Jacquemin departed this morning

to join his bride in Vouthon,

a town four hundred miles

from Domrémy.

I feel his loss

as if my only hat has blown away

and from now on I must suffer

unprotected in the cold.

I stumble to find footing,

for Jean

becomes the oldest son.

Jean lords his new ascendance

over us all

like a cruel king.

“Father says I am in charge

of the flock, the herds,

and the northern fields.”

He orders me and Catherine

to thresh the wheat

and Pierre to round up the cattle,

while Jean covers his face with his cap

and lies down for a nap.

I want to kick the lazy lout

swiftly in the shins.

Catherine pats my arm.

“Father will notice

that Jean shirks his duties,

but it is not our place

to reprimand our brother.”

I roll my eyes;

sweet, perfect Catherine,

who always knows the right thing to do.

I follow her to the field

and find a sturdy stick.

Each time I thrash the wheat,

I imagine it is a blow

aimed at my brother.

After an hour of severing

the heads from the stalks,

I calm down.

I must remember who I am,

who I am going to be.

A temperamental girl

cannot be the savior of France.

I fall to my knees

and cross myself.

“Please, God,

grant me patience

and endurance,

and please help Jean

correct the error of his ways.”

WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?

Hiding my mission

from my family feels dishonest

and therefore in conflict

with God’s teachings.

Yet I dare not tell a soul

I have been chosen by God to save France.

I don’t think my family

or anyone else would believe me.

How could they?

I still struggle to believe it myself.

●✦●

I must stitch thrice as fast as

Catherine-the-Immaculate-Mender

to sneak away this afternoon.

And when I do, I have a sinking feeling

Catherine’s eyes follow me into the fields.

The sun winks behind a cloud,

and the trees fill with light

like blooming lilies.

I stretch my arms to the sky

and continue my mental list

of what God might demand of me.

As I pray,

two things come into my mind:

be reverent

be humble.

I know what it is to be reverent

and worship God,

I go to mass twice a day now.

But I’m not sure I fully understand

the meaning of humility.

I lie down in the meadowland

beyond our crops

and pluck a single piece of grass.

I turn and study it sideways.

Alone, one blade is so small

it appears insignificant,

but when banded together,

blades create a mighty field.

None of the pieces more, or less,

important than the others.

Perhaps that is humility.

I will try always to remember this.

A SNARE OR A CAGE

Sometimes I feel

like a rabbit being baited

into a snare.

I haven’t the skills

to protect myself

from predators,

from the dangers of the night.

I may wish

to hop outside my warren,

but I never truly believed

I would do so.

God calls me

to leave my family’s nest

and enter the dark forest.

Yet if my father knew of my plans,

he would cage me in the kitchen.

I would not feel sunlight

on my back until I exchanged

marriage vows.

And the truth is

I am lured

by more than God’s voice

into the greater world.

I dreamed of the forest,

of leaving my home,

well before He spoke to me.

Still, what if my first leap

is my last?

WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

Catherine stands at the back door,

watching me untangle a burr

from my hair.

“I know you were not

tending the sheep

or threshing the field

or weeding the garden

or doing household chores.”

“I was praying,

at church.”

I tell a partial fib.

She brushes dirt off my shoulder.

“When I met Marc,

I prayed a lot too.”

I shake my head.

“It’s not what you think.”

Catherine smiles.

“I wish you would know

that you can trust me.”

She looks at me

as if we share something

that I know we don’t.

She kisses my forehead.

Perhaps my sister would understand?

But what if she didn’t?

“I promise you,

I am doing nothing sinful.”

She chuckles as she spins me around

to retie my apron.

“I know that, Jehanne.”

“So, you will keep my secret?”

“Of course I will.”

THEY ARE COMING

We learn of the English soldiers’ approach

miles before any horses’ hooves can be heard.

We gather our best linen and dishes,

the church books and cross,

and move what grain, goods, and livestock

we can south to Neufchâteau,

a town with a crumbling castle

but sturdy walls to protect us.

We villagers are saved

from fire and death,

but not from godless thievery.

I stumble over the rubble and loss

we find back in Domrémy.

The enemy raiders weren’t satisfied

with some cattle, grain, and coin.

They wanted to consume all.

A silent fury ignites inside me.

It spreads through my veins

like fire sweeping over a field of grain.

SLEEPING WITH FLAMES

Again, fire blazes through my dreams.

The whole village of Domrémy

smolders.

Houses, barns, fields, and stables

crumble to ash and ember.

The surface of the lake is blackened

as though it has been scorched

by dragon’s breath.

I scream for help.

No one hears me.

No one sees.

I feels as if I am

the only person who exists.

Everyone else

must have perished in the fire.

Or perhaps

I was always alone.

MY FATHER’S NIGHTMARE

Though he tries to speak in hushed tones,

my father’s voice is bold enough

to corral a runaway herd.

Even from across the barn,

I can’t help but overhear him.

“If I had the dream only once,

I might have thought nothing of it.

But three times?”

Father unhitches the ox

as Jean and Pierre

pour grain into the trough.

“It’s dreadful. Jehanne is among men-at-arms.

She leaves my home to be among soldiers.

She must be a—

I hate to even speak the words.

But she must be a prostitute.”

Jean laughs.

“But Father, all Jehanne does

is work and pray.

She never even looks at a boy.”

“I know. It seems lunatic,

but please watch her for me.”

Father wipes his brow,

then struggles to find these words:

“Do you ever see her around—

men—

around . . . soldiers?”

Both my brothers say, “No!”

Father releases a sigh.

“Good. You have assured me.”

He shakes dirt off his boot.

“Still, if I ever believed Jehanne

would do this sinful thing,

I would ask you to drown her.

And if you would not do it,

I would do it myself.”

I feel like I have been kicked

unawares by our ox.

My eyes well with tears,

and I cannot breathe.

But my brothers shake their heads.

Pierre says,

“Jehanne is the most virtuous girl

any of us will ever know.

Have no fear, Father.”

My lungs remember

how to breathe again.

When my father and brothers

leave the barn,

I remain among the cows.

I have spoken

of my calling to save France

to no one,

and yet Father imagined me

among soldiers.

Even though he misunderstood why,

he saw me among their ranks—

this proves that the prophecy is true,

that I really am La Pucelle.

PRAYER

I feel most at peace

kneeling in a pew,

inside a house devoted to God,

where His presence surrounds me.

Often, I’m the only person at Saint-Rémy

except for Sacristan Drappier.

My brothers say

they ought to move my bed here,

because these days the only time

I’m not in church,

I’m asleep.

I bless myself,

recite the Paternoster and the creed,

and pray to the Holy Mother.

I confess at least daily

to cleanse my soul

of the dirt of my hands.

As the sun nears its bedtime

and I hear the call of my mother,

I kneel before the altar.

I don’t ask to understand

my holy mission,

but only to be strong enough

to achieve it,

to believe I can do

what’s required of me.

Because I don’t yet

feel able or worthy.

MY SISTER

When I pause to admire

the glorious day

as we work together

hoeing the garden,

Catherine smiles and says,

“I look up and I see

clouds and sun,

blue sky and rain.

When you look above, Jehanne,

you see the breath of God

and the teardrops of angels.

You hear heaven’s song.

It is a special gift.”

We may not

call one another friend,

but Catherine

never has an unkind word

for anyone,

and certainly

not for me.

Though we are as different

as wind and water,

she has never made me feel

wrong.

Sometimes I long

to tell her who I am becoming,

for if anyone would believe me,

it would be Catherine.

But for now,

I keep it to myself.


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