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09.23.14
I Am a Burning Girl
Wrapped in the good bleach, the house becomes both border and brine. As a dance floor, a little dirt is good for bodies to grip. You hold on. I hold on to anger.

As a stoke for flame, feeling is sufficient.

We are taught that good fuel must be renewable. Case study: Throughout the nineteenth century the underglow of beauty ate so many girls it became known as “the holocaust of ballet girls.” Not ballerinas (previously this has been used sparingly as a term to denote supreme accomplishment), but girls. The gas lamps on stage illuminated the work of their limbs: limbs fine-molded; lovely limbs; limbs framed ugly with flame protection.

A good ballet girl has not soaked her muslin dress in alum, lets layers fly. Grace is more alluring in ghosts than girls. Both is big bucks.

Previously known as melancholy, we call this phenomenon media. Remake them more beautiful, moths to a flame. Destined. A tragic destiny. We neglect to look at our own hands, newsprint stained and fingers on the TV remote, writing the narrative for these girls. I take a burning selfie of oven-gained scars. I make my hair a burning color: case study in victim performance.

I think I am a burning girl.

Though the power will not go out in this week of June storms, I build pyres for safety. I could make church candles from the unacceptable fat in my ass. Fuel is a finite resource only in constructed borders.

The moon will not light. We have other girls to burn for us.

Within the smoke it is difficult to distinguish specific figures. They could be Saints Thea and Valentina—in 308 AD brought before the governor of Palestine. He, weary of torture, commands the torn-up virgins to be bound together and burnt on the same fire. Fuel-efficient. Many others burn.

They could be Saints Agape, Chionia, and Irene meaning Love, Purity, and Peace in Greek: sisters. These sisters refused sacred food, bodies refusing their machine part, and so got burnt.

We have other girls to burn for us.

Saints Justa and Rufina, more sisters, more fuel (though after expiring from other methods).

Joan of Arc, everyone’s sister, burnt.

A fuel might burn outside its expected spectrum of yellow, orange, red, depending on impurities surrounding and inherent, but annihilation is certain. Copper burns blue and green. Sugar burns blue.

An exemplar of asset, Saint Afra, her body defined as capital and not a natural resource—a product of her mother’s work, was an early model for the importance of adaptability in enterprise. Sold into sacred prostitution in the Temple of Venus, the body of Afra later converts to Christian fuel. Though she sacrifices herself to Christ, she is not her own to give.

We light candles to ask them for help, these women we kill.

I was not raised Catholic but light a candle for the dead in every church I can. It is the limit of my own spectrum that I remember these only as red or white. In Amsterdam I visit Oude Kerk cathedral, consecrated in 1306 and situated in the city’s current red-light district. Here I light a white candle so that my father will not die before I get home for Christmas. At the time the cathedral is also home to The Museum of Broken Relationships, debris given proper pause. I wonder if I have burnt the right shade.

Later, when I get accustomed to lighting candles to signify love, I am sorry, the apologies hinge upon the confession that I could burn, too.

Despite having lived in Massachusetts for two years, this is my first visit to Salem. We visit the museum, which is really not a museum in the sense of housing artifacts, but a museum in that it defines itself as “The Salem Witch Museum.” It offers terrible dioramas with a B-movie voiceover. Though we could expect more from the primary museum in Salem, we want the circus as well as the history.

The sideshow freaks center staged: femme fatales now flaming. The truth is that no one burned at Salem. The truth is that we want to remember witches burning.

A full culture’s dream: To watch a hanging in your dream represents feelings of insecurity. The hanging may symbolize aspects of yourself that you want to eliminate. To dream that someone is being burned alive suggests that you are being consumed by your own ambition.

We must be a nation of consumers.

But I wasn’t there to discuss how the emergence of pre-Industrial capitalism might have been the trigger for the English Witch Hunts or how difficult it is to view this as a movie with end credits considering the news going on outside.

This news is the Santa Barbara shooting, in which Elliot Rodger murdered six people as a result of deep misogyny, but it could and will be substituted for numerous other nameable and unnamed events.

The unnameable of Salem are numerous.

In the museum not a single woman who was hanged was named (some of those who lounged in prison or were released still not knowing their crimes got a catcall, others were referred to as “wife of …”). However, every man who died, whether through torture or hanging, was named. An entire diorama devoted to Giles Corey, his strength, his bravery, his pain. Martha, his wife, hanged and killed again as a footnote.

John Proctor’s pregnant wife, who was subject to the same punishment as him but granted a stay of execution because of her condition, was only named as wife. He was named as “one of the few brave men” who stood against the hysteria.

Hysteria has not been erased. Hysteria meaning, fundamentally, of the womb. The displacement or misuse of this female anatomical element, like any transgression of female bodies, is an aberration. This disease originally thought to be caused from unwanted sexual abstinence found its cure in sex. The clinical becomes the clerical and so the womb becomes the demon. What Tertullian calls the devil’s gateway lets in mortal and moral sickness.

Returning home after Salem I am grateful. I call out my female friends as coven, I name them. We name each other against our erasures. We name those women murdered at Salem: Bridget Bishop, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Wildes, Martha Carrier, Martha Corey, Mary Eastey, Ann Pudeator, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Margaret Scott, Sarah Osborn, Lyndia Dustin, Ann Foster. We name those being murdered still: George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Weihan “David” Wang, Katherine Breann Cooper, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Elizabeth Weiss.

We run out of breath, we stoke the fire with our oxygen.

Caroline Crew edits the journal Ilk. She is the author of several chapbooks, including Caroline, Who Will You Pray to Now That You Are Dead (Coconut Books). She is the author of Plastic Sonnets (Big Lucks).