The Martyr of Baikonur
i am made into a star
my mortality pressed out of me
like the layers of bitter apples
hemmed into the cider press.
it only takes pressure,
a transfiguration in silence,
to make a diamond out of ashes.
it was not always so.
i remember before.
but the light of the star by the time it reaches you
is long dead.
the daily living killed me by degrees
and anyone who asks should know this:
what happened to me above
was far better than anything i experienced on earth.
somewhere beyond radio contact
the air went stale
and as my eyes went dim the change began:
the ice of space wrapped around me
like the Theotokos’ celestial mantel
as the capsule cracked and moaned.
the void swallowed all mourner’s prayers
but i did not try to say them.
when i agreed to go
slip those surly bonds with my steely certainty
i thought surely
i would touch the face of God
and forget what my own had looked like.
so i called myself Valentina
with all my unfortunate hair and severe mouth,
a new name for my tonsure and profession.
i shut myself into the capsule
and held my breath as the seconds slipped away
the last moments of gravity and its contractions
streaking silver into the heavens
and past them
until i was finally alone.
i wanted the silence.
i wanted the emptiness to make
a hermitage of zero gravity,
become a stylite amongst the stars —
an astronomical anchoress
a soyuz my desert cave
and i to be St Anthony
with all of space as my wilderness,
mechanical failure for my martyr’s beasts,
and within myself find the peace promised
that comes with ending —
nothing but flesh to be devoured
but i was ready for this last and greatest mystery.
saints are by death transformed,
birthed to their universal adoration,
and so was i:
glorified in the highest and peace,
a star at last —
forever lighting the way for the next traveller.
this is the way, the truth, and the life
transfigured: nothing left
but an engine flame beneath my ikon
of steel and glory,
now and forever.
India Valentin is a PhD student by day and writer by night. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband and fellow writer Lev Mirov, and their two spoiled cats. Currently, she’s working on a religious studies dissertation and fitting in time for poetry and paranormal fiction. Whenever she escapes the library, she can be found haunting ballet studios and hunting for the world’s best cup of coffee. This is her first poetry sale. To follow her steps, connect with her athttps://twitter.com/valentin_india.