Daedalus stood at the window,
stared down on  the wine-dark sea,
at the white-sailed ships with somewhere to go,
at the sea birds flying free.

Icarus looked up at his father,
watched him sawing wood
then helped to sweep up the white sawdust
like a good son should.

What’s in that pot on the burner?
What do you have in these sacks?
Why are you carefully sticking those feathers
one by one into that wax

Father, what toy are you making
with wood and feathers and glue?
And why do you work here all the day long
and half  the night too?

Why do we work for these people?
Why have  they locked our door?
Why can I never go out to play
with the children on the shore?

Daedalus stood at the window,
stared out at the clear blue sky
and the birds that passed all flew in from the left.
He felt his mouth go dry.

Icarus looked up at his father.
His eyes were full of fun
but his father’s eyes went cold as the stars
when he looked up at the sun.

Tighten those straps on your shoulders.
Tighten those straps on your arm
and listen to every word that I say
and you cannot come to harm.

Fit your fingers into the canvas.
Spread your fingers out wide.
Now lift your arms up to your shoulders.
Now sweep them down to your side.

He led Icarus up to the turret
that towered over the town.
Watch what I do then you do the same.
My wings won’t let you down.

These wings are the best I’ve ever made
but my skill can be undone.
We must fly low.  We dare not go
too close to that blazing sun.

Daedalus stood poised like a diver.
Like a diver he fell through the air
and the air let him fall through its fingers
as if it didn’t care

till his wings stirred and some  invisible force
carried him over the town –
the slightest movement of his arms
sent him up, or sideways, or down

and Icarus flew right behind him,
laughing his joy out loud
for the air felt safe as houses
and his body light as a cloud.

The gods were alerted by  Minos shouting,
cursing, tearing his hair
while the boy and his father,  too clever by half,
trespassed through his air.

It only takes a second;
it catches you unprepared –
first the impulse of joy and then the act,
the deed  that can’t be repaired.

The careful work of a lifetime
in a moment is undone.
Wisdom ignored,  Icarus soared
up to the golden sun.

He did not hear his father’s cries
nor see the red wax run;
he did not see the fragile feathers
drop off one by one.

Where was the dolphin, the sailor’s friend?
Where  the ship? the look-out’s  cry?
Why did everything turn away
from the boy falling out of the sky?

O father what is happening?
O father what have I done?
Why are they tumbling round my head
the sky and the sea and the sun?

A splash of white starred  the wine-dark sea
and Icarus was gone.
The gods had other things to do.
His father flew hopelessly on.

Why was no rescuing eagle  
summoned by  a simple nod? 
Which of us would not have saved him
if we had been a god?

9 responses to “ICARUS

    • They are second-semester freshmen in my Comp II/Intro to Lit at Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT. Only a few of them show up in my blog! Instead of slogging through a cinderblock of an Anthology, the last three years I’ve been assigning students to create their own thematically-centered anthologies. Some of them report this experience as “life-changing” (which in current teenspeak IS better than “awesome,” at least). Anyway, to start them off I give them a small anthology I’ve put together, “The Common Reader,” so that we have some poems and stories to discuss in common for the first few weeks, before they begin their own searches. The Auden and Williams are in “The Common Reader,” as is the painting. Last spring I read them your poem (they loved it!); this year I plan to incorporate it into “The Common Reader” along with the Williams and the Auden, if that’s okay with you.

  1. Thank you for your wonderful photos and reports you share with us from your world. it is so different a place from mine. And thank you, too, for the poem. I had nearly forgotten the fate of that young lad. And, indeed, had I been a god . . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s