On March 31, 1880, Wabash, Indiana became the first electrically lit city in the world.
Over to Wabash from Anderson we come
to witness the night to end all nights.
The courthouse tower bell strikes eight—
and over the sound of the band playing,
a buzz as if from a blizzard of bees rises
in the evening air—the breeze crackles
and night bursts into a strange new day.
Fierce pride dawns, but fear beckons
as grown men moan down to their knees
and lovers flee to newly shrunken shadows.
Like a cornered fox whose secret lair’s
sniffed out by hounds, my eyes ricochet
from one sharp angle to another
of this unfamiliar luminous cage.
I break and run—far from the false suns’ glare
down to the river, only to find
that traitorous serpentine band
capturing traces of the ensorcelled light.
In my girlhood days, before the soil began to erode,
that river glowed like molten silver in sunlight—
the Miami people named it Wah-bah-shik-ki, or “white”
and fought our fathers for the riches of its pure bright waters.
Some measure of peace returns as I watch its endless flow—
a hundred years from now, others will come to these banks
for the comfort only a river can bestow, and I know
they will praise us for giving chase to the dark forever.
And someday, because of tonight,
folk like us will venture between the stars
where only darkness speaks,
their frail, persistent faces shining like beacons
in the sharper shadows cast by alien suns.
The Lost Colony
Virginia Dare was the first child born to English parents in the Roanoke colony.
Lost before I was weaned,
my fate a mystery before I was grown,
I was christened Virginia—
a new name for a child born in a world
new to our blood.
Salt sang in my veins,
the motion of the ocean
pulsed in my infant heart,
the August sun of a green world
met my newly opened eyes,
and already in my flute-like throat
a softer accent was being tuned
by this sand, these trees, this wind.
From fretful dreams in my carved cradle
I woke to sounds of battle behind flimsy palisade walls.
Bloodtides sprang, receded, but never died,
I tell you, my kind survived.
Spread like fire my blood rooted a forest,
birthed a mystery deeper
than any of us could have dreamed—
Grandfather, after three years of desperate waiting
you came back for us
to find only a muddy footprint,
one torn word gashed in wood: Croatoan,
code for salvation or accusation,
no way to know, no trail to follow.
Search for me no more, my mother’s father,
for I linger here, in the rock beneath the captive soil,
in the mandrake root twisted at the foot of the oak,
in the gaze of the green forest,
the eyes that blink at you through the coming night.
Maid Joan’s Gethsemane
I never questioned the summoning
when the saints came to me
in my father’s garden—
why else would the good Lord
give me, a maid, this soul
forged in shape of a sword?
When I was a girl in Domrémy
dancing around the midsummer’s bonfire,
I once saw a spiderweb catch a spark,
silken threads shriveling in the flames,
the spider paying out her escape line,
but in the end trapped in her own fiery lair—
Something stayed my hand from rescue then,
it seemed a thing meant—
the spark sent, perhaps by You.
My God, my country, my king—
to me they were all one thing.
For their sake, I abandoned
my childhood home and hearth
for the fickle shelter of army banners
and took up a standard crowned
with golden angel wings.
At the stake, when I looked upon
Your nailed hands curled on the cross,
all I could see were my mother’s pale fingers
at her spinning wheel—churned flax
transfigured into fine linen floss
twisted onto a spindle,
which to my child’s gaze
spun on and on without end.
I will never again don a daughter’s gown—
in its stead, a martyr’s skirt of flames
brands my face on the fabric of heaven
forever, and from this night on,
whenever my name is spoken,
the stars will taste of my ashes.
Beatriz F. Fernandez is the author of Shining from a Different Firmament (Finishing Line Press, 2015) which she presented at the Miami Book Fair International last year. She’s a former grand prize winner of the Writer’s Digest Poetry Award and has read her poetry on WLRN, South Florida’s NPR news station. Her poems have appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Falling Star Magazine (2014 Pushcart Nomination), Minerva Rising, Verse Wisconsin, and Writer’s Digest, among many others. Contact her at www.beasbooks.blogspot.com or @nebula61.