Girl who rises from the ash heap of Domremy, girl brown
as your father’s cattle, you are cinder-smirched, embered
until even your eyes burn black. Like most heroines in these stories
you have two sisters, and a destiny. Your sisters, Catherine
and Margaret, who we will call the Wheel, and the Dragon,
conspire to bring you to Rouen, and ruin. But you are fortunate.
Your mother seeded your bones with hazel trees and turtle doves. Magic
follows you. When at last your chance comes—a ball in Chinon—
your sisters are before you, flawless as porcelain eggs tucked into finery.
But you don’t despair. You have a fairy Godfather. He is all wind
and eyes and beating wings. He plucks the silvery bream
from your kitchen midden, fashions its scales into a gown of frost
-colored plates that shiver as you move. He turns the delicate fishy
bones into finely wrought slippers—the heels shine like blades. You
are transformed: a gift of salt, or pears. Rough gift wrapped in magic.
You are the white-throat singing, you are a crewelwork
of stars. You follow the clever breadcrumbs left by your sisters
and journey to Chinon. The words you must speak you have carved
in your arm, tattooed on your ribs. Your sleeves blossom red.
And here is the pomp, and here the ceremony: casements
winking lanterns, tallow muted air. The Dauphin, our prince for
the purposes of this story, is mild, tremulous as a ladle of milk.
You enter the stony chamber like the moon, and he is yours. You burn
hot as a hummingbird’s heart. He warms himself in the scald
of your surety. Can this be the point of your story? All the wheeling
stars and unpicked seams so you can meet your prince? Hours
deepen. Men feed you figs and honey. Women crop your hair, dress
it with flowers, with scented oil. You are groomed for purposes
you cannot, even now, name—pressed forward, in your shining gown
of mail, to a tremolo of drums, a clatter of halberds. You cross
history’s cobbles. Your bladed slippers sing against stone. Is it
possible your stepsisters do not recognize you, even as they whisper
near your ears? No. They only play at ignorance, all the while
they plan your undoing. They are the hands of the one who clothes
you pure as water-light, lilywhite. The one you trust. Fate
grinds closer. The virginals sound their descant: a whinge of strings
to your dovewing bones, your hazel twigs. Lords and ladies, silked,
stiffen like a frieze of marble when the clock strikes the hour.
Their eyes blank as stone. Not one hand will lift to help you. Everything
points toward Rouen. Like all heroines in these stories you are not
the mistress of your own fate. Men pen your story. Frame your choices
with lies, with blades, with sharded glass. Brave girl
from the sleeping fields of woad, small, darkmouse girl of the sloe-
colored eyes, girl of charcoal hair, bannered in godlight, you flare
into the night in your garment of shimmers and glints. Your robe
of flickering scarlet.
One slipper left on the stair.