Size / / /

They are burning Joan.

They are always burning Joan;
there's always a pyre ready
for a woman who believes,
who acts,
who commands—

even at rest,
you can see a flicker in their eyes
like flames,
ready to consume.

They kindle between beats of your heart.

My sword has grown heavy.
My sword has grown heavy,
and I have at some point
abandoned my shield—

better moving faster than blocking,
and I can take the hit,
I can
I always can.
I've taken hits for all of us for years;
haven't I?
Gets blurry sometimes.
I can't remember life before the sword.
Or before the fire.
I grow weary, shield-sister,
and can find no rest.

They burn us.
We kindle,
we burn,
we char,
we howl—
we do not know
if we will rise phoenix-like
until it's over.
Every time, we enter blind.

Some essential part of me
has burned,
has passed through flames uncounted—
self-preservation, perhaps,
or sleep,
or memory—
crumbling in my fist.
to spiral up my arms.
This is my armor now.

I howl in my sleep, sometimes.
I dream of fire.
I am a burnt offering,
a sacrifice,
jolting back to the war—
no rest.

My sword is my home.
The pyre is my home.
The war is my home,
and the war is never over.
I will end alone,
with no one to count my scars.

Or we may yet prevail.
We may prevail,
and I may walk home,
hundreds of miles home,
to hearth and farm
and people who knew me before the sword.
I may grow out my hair
and sleep beneath a tree
and tell stories;
and every story will end
"and here I am,
still singing."

Publication of this poem was made possible by a donation from Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. (Thanks, Rochita!) To find out more about our funding model, or donate to the magazine, see the Support Us page.

Shira Lipkin's short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Clockwork Phoenix 4, and other wonderful places; they have won the Rhysling Award for best short poem. Their nonfiction has appeared at Salon. They co-edit Liminality, a magazine of speculative poetry, with Mat Joiner.
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