St Joan Of Now
A play in five acts by Mike Lesser
Rouen Market square.
Joan Giles and a crowd come for the burning. Soldiers. Priests.
Joan was nineteen when she was murdered. The average age of American military fatalities in Vietnam was also nineteen. War is a widespread form of child abuse. In war the old revenge themselves on the young for the energy, hopefulness and beauty which time stolen from them.
Of course there must be more to it than that. For instance, the Burgundians reputedly sold Joan to the English for 10,000 gold francs. At that time this was a Prince’s ransom. Joan was simultaneously the most expensive agricultural labourer and the most expensive fire-wood that the world would ever see. Such is the way of nations; we know it well. Sadly we are not so familiar with the logic of the miracle.
There is nothing special about the rise of Joan, her victories, her end and her subsequent reputation, she is just an ordinary everyday miracle. If it were not the miracle, the flowers of the dream, the world would long ago have imploded under the pressure of humanities self-hatred.
Newsperson A guard, moved to pity ties a microphone to a pole, holds it through the smoke and flame.
Joan When we come …
When we come to our senses,
That we come to,
This multi-coloured blizzard,
This turbulence of sensation,
Is the Holy Ghost:
Yet unique in everyone.
At the hinge point,
Only the air moves
And the shadows of the brown weeds
Swept round their stalks
And round the soldier’s boots.
Only the sound of the wind,
The applause of ascending doves
And chickens laughing.
At the hinge point
The details are irrelevant.
I remember once
Holding a broken shard of crystal to my eye,
Fascinated by the power
Of the faceted lens
To sift the fear
From the miraculous
Feeling the tugging
Of the invisible
Stitches holding me in the shape of my life
I realised that I was
A version of myself,
A single figure from
A library of images,
Any one of which would,
With the slightest effort of will,
I understood that,
When I put the crystal down,
This perfect world
But would not cease to exist.
I saw that within my mind anything could be known.
Ran to tell.
That there was something about the world,
Which gives it completeness.
How is it possible
To remember forgetting
Gilles In the wind,
In the square,
At the hinge,
The first ordinary person
In the world
This is the beginning of modern time.
A time with its own appetites,
Colours, supporters, ambitions,
Triumphs and humiliations;
Its own history.
Modern time is not neutral:
It has a side of its own.
This is the time that conquered space,
And marketed imagination
As an infinite source of unspoilt dimensions.
This is a time that connects what it distances
A time which has a geometry of its own.
From now on things will talk louder than words.
Not just the gun’s thunder but a flood of
Made mouths will dumb
Merely human tongues in the frantic roar
Of their impoverishing hymns.
Women Chorus In our daze,
Men Chorus In our daze,
Women Chorus In a railway train,
Men Chorus A car,
Women Chorus Aeroplane or cart,
Men Chorus On a bridge,
Women Chorus On foot,
Newsperson Or in Rouen Market Square,
In the place of public burning,
Gilles The groping heart of fear and cruelty
Licks with blind tongues
At a blazing shadow
By the shadow of a chain.
Chorus At noon in the hot sun
In the square
The side of the cathedral
Rises up incandescent.
From their thrones
The stone prophets cry —
Prophets We were alive before we died.
1st Prophet We sailed time’s skin.
2nd Prophet We ploughed our shallow furrow
1st Prophet Across the bone and muscle
3rd Prophet Of a sea which knows more of
2nd Prophet Than we dared suspect.
1st Prophet A sea which knows more of us
Than we dare know
Prophets (together) Of ourselves.
1st Prophet At our best …
2nd Prophet At our best,
3rd Prophet Transparent,
1st Prophet Perfectly what we were
2nd Prophet Our hearts still lacked teeth
3rd Prophet To gnaw into the sinews of time
1st Prophet Deeper than our shallow keel’s
2nd Prophet We have become
Prophets (successively, in canon)
Whispers, whispers, whispers,
1st Prophet In the hot limestone cliff.
2nd Prophet Our truth
1st Prophet Announcing,
1st & 2nd Prophets Announcing,
Prophets (together) Announcing …
Chorus (to JOAN) Your deology’s wrong
Newsperson Of course, you’re right —
You’re right except you’ve got the problem inside out,
Or back to front, or (hesitates) inside out.
You’re right, of course, you’re right;
It’s not surprising
Things have got a little mixed up in your mind.
What these trained eyes can see
Is that we have a problem with our ideology.
At the hinge
Truth is local,
Miracle beats truth.
The completely perfectly synchronised
Of the world’s chain shroud.
The strength and the perfect terror
Of the urgent lies
That bind us.
The loss and pain in the making
Of the illusion
Of strength and weakness,
Gilles And the loss and pain in the breaking of it.
Joan I am glad
Joan & Gilles That none of my different parts
Know how to feel the same.
Joan The idea of the knower and the being known
Travelling opposite directions
Is neither straightforward nor pretty.
It makes, of life, a mirror maze.
Easy to walk into.
The mirrors make twins
And the twins make twins.
It gets crowded.
You get lonely.
Bouncing off the plate glass,
Trying to learn to recognise reflections.
Newsperson Sounds like a small sacrifice for progress
Women Chorus Which makes everything better
Men Chorus Which improves the future
Gilles So nothing can stand against progress?
Newsperson Usually we improve things we already have
But for the future —
Chorus For the future
Newsperson For the future
We are willing to make an exception.
For the future
We are prepared to sacrifice everything.
Gilles They are waiting for you.
Joan. Yes, I think so.