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  • By Dave Earnhardt

Ode to Icarus

Oh, Icarus, son of sons, orphan

father of civilized man,

you’ve a right to take heart at least

in that dream analysis

begun with you,

when you were taught,

before the sky gods arrived,

that the only escape

from the masochistic limits

of civilization

was through

the infinite promise of the sky,

as manifest of the unconscious.

In spite of the hope inspired herein,

however, the true miracle is

that you’ve continued to fall,

sacred rock, as far beyond

gravity’s acceleration rate

as the afterlife

for so many dark centuries

immortal through trial by fire.

Your fame has held up, too,

despite the fact

that you’ve been compromised

by so many paradoxes,

such as your father’s having,

though master craftsman,

murdered Perdix,

and becoming doubly evil

by his jealousy

causing the suicide

of the boy, Polycastes.

Yet, you must have inspired him

to follow his better nature,

as instantly he became

innocent and proud

when he wanted to save you

from punishment in the prison

he’d unwittingly created for himself

where, dutifully, he built the rack

capable of supporting the white bull

toward the satisfaction of Pasiphaë’s lust.

Neither history nor psychology

can tell us, though,

what dark thoughts he might have

resisted, such as whether

it might have been more merciful

than to put you at odds with the sun

to have strangled you

with his iron hands,

or what regrets had weighed

against his dim hope

that you’d make it to land

when you finally fell away

from his side

and floated off into the ether all alone.

We can never know, either,

precisely what mistake you made

that sent you plummeting

embraced by earth’s pull,

like a mote, into the eye of the sea,

that false blue reflection

of the heavens.

Were you just plain careless,

falling prey

to adolescent jouissance,

trivializing gravity’s hold,

or youthful rebelliousness,

or even offering yourself up

to the death wish

that is eternally voiced

deep, beyond sound,

in the unconscious,

as the Aegean reminded you,

for which you were

unable to mirror your better self?

What we can be certain of is that,

having paid your dues to humanity

by describing man’s aspiring

yet tragic psyche,

you were the first poem,

proving that us humans,

are made

of language, as well as water.

Whatever were the true causes

and effects

of the culminating event,

and despite our natural

sentimental bent in wanting

to make sense as it pleases us,

you proved,

as any good Greek would,

the value and immortality of beauty,

that those outcomes in life

that arrive with least guile

and greatest passion,

are those that matter in the end,

beyond the reach of tragedy.

You did, as a matter of fact,

avoid the degradation

of dull blood-fed earth,

in your time called Gaia,

your most aspirational images,

before fear blinded you,

emblazoned in your spirit

by her bright counterpart, Uranus.

In the end your father redeemed himself,

too, in the name of all youth,

by helping end the yearly sacrifice

of fourteen girls and fourteen boys

to satisfy the appetite

of the monster Minotaur,

vile mutation of Nature,

by accepting Ariadne’s clew

to give to Theseus

that after killing him

he might unravel a singular thread

to find his way out of the Labyrinth.

Theseus had youthful aspirations,

like you, too,

despite having saved humanity

from itself, since he neglected,

in his youth self-centered enthusiasm

wherein he’d even begun

to consider himself immortal,

to lower his ship’s black sails,

as he neared the coast of Athens,

causing his father, Aegeus’s, suicide,

for which his namesake sea

wept ever since.

But no father, either, even one

as elevated as yours,

could never blame his son

for making a fatal error

out of enthusiasm

for life and freedom,

though his initial fear for you

was confirmed.

In your own right,

guided by a fort-da of a gentle breeze

as Theseus had by that

of a string,

you’ve insured a comforting aspect

to your story, as he had,

by taking on the task of a man

where once you’d both

committed yourselves, and

could not back out,

thereby fated to heroism,

you defined true bravery.

You were heroic, too,

in trusting, as master craftsman,

your father’s skill,

as Theseus had trusted

the cohesive unity

of a silly ball of thread.

In fact, despite what seemed at first


in his fashioning wings

from pigeon feathers,

gecko dung, cow blood

and the wax of common candles,

especially since

belief in paternal love

could not be questioned

in your symbolic world.

You were a hero among heroes,

after all,

in having trusted yourself

to make the sky, the intellect,

your own,

subject to your liberated powers,

as you’d ignored

your premonitions and

horrific dreams

to prove that

the language that saves us all

from ignorance and hopelessness—

poetry—begins in

the bottomless labyrinth of desire.

You should never be ashamed, either,

in your sharing your mother’s desire

to be consumed by beauty,

where the sun is the truest father,

by giving life to all,

so, he gave you life in that consummation.

What is lust, after all—but

another name

for true love—the love that consumes?

And who could blame you,

as you were brought up

on tales of Pegasus and Phaëton,

wherein flight was the ideal

of all ideals, as Plato,

unwitting father

of western religiosity,

the language of languages,

pointed out?

Finally, you are heroic

in having,

rather than writing the poem

about humanity’s salvation,

embodied it, as that

which rewrites itself in perpetuity,

reminding us how to write out

our own lives,

despite our inevitable defeats—


Dave Earnhardt is from Denver, Colorado. He's been published in Lyrical Voices,The Occasional Review,ERAS,Voices International,Black Bear Publications,Whaleane,The Aurorean,Driftwood PressandTenth Muse. He writes in every genre, including music; his CD is “Classically Blue.” He has taught secondary and college English; earned his master’s degree in literature and language at Indiana University and the University of Northern Colorado.


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