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Notes from Icarus

Daedalus, my father, tried to fashion me for wings
but I, who treasured heresy, had no use for the things
or for the cliff that he had labored at for many years
to leave for me a fortune or a basis or career.

He shoved me off the edge the day I turned a young eighteen,
not knowing really who I was, or what the drop might mean;
to some gods quite unknown to me, he might have said a prayer
then watched with blended pride and sorrow as I beat the air.

Of course, because the wings were made to fit his arms, not mine,
after a brief respite of floating, I made a decline,
and found in sharp perspective with the looming of the ground
no use for most of the great knowledge he tried to pass down.

The sun above shone as it does, both bright and hot that day,
and my sire’s mix of wax and feathers sought to melt away;
while from the cliff-side, he looked on, still hoping for the best,
like any fledgling’s parent does when they first leave the nest.

But though I am my father’s son, his dream was not my own,
that all the miles he ran and walked instead he might have flown,
counter to training, expectation and man’s hallowed laws,
I sought to regain life on earth, despite its glaring flaws.

And so we parted company, old Daedalus and I,
my view along the cliff’s rough base, and his toward the sky;
and the hard lessons for us both that we tried to avoid
came, in their time, despite the ruses that we each employed.

Now many years have passed, and I’ve recovered from that fall,
though in some places I’m still bruised and sometimes have to crawl;
my father, disappointed, has retired to his death bed,
and I, instead of flying, have learned how to walk, instead.

10 JUL 2004

for James Joyce

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The Other Shoe Drops

My mother, who turns seventy next year,
four days from now is driving from LA,
alone across almost two thousand miles
(she plans between ten and twelve miles a day)

to visit us in New Orleans — she says,
for just a day or so; and then, she’s off
towards the north. Next stop is Tennessee.
My younger sister’s been there just two months

and barely settled in; she moved away
to close the West Coast chapter of her life.
Of course, that book includes my brothers and my mom.
I understand her motivation well,
although to mom it’s not so cut and dry.

She wonders what would cause someone to split
away from hearth and home, leaving behind
the everything your life has ever been
in search of something else – something else real.

But she and Dad did much the same thing:
they put a state, at first, between their life
and where they came from, cutting free the past.
It worked for about seven years or so.

And then they were dragged back into the fold,
or close enough to be within the web
of sibling politics and watchful eyes;
they tried to make a go of it, and failed.

Next, they tried the whole damn continent —
uprooting us from the dull, complacent life
that was in store if we stayed on the farm,
and ran three thousand miles, to Western shores.

The family back at home, in the Midwest
still wonders why they left, dissatisfied
with close-knit clan surrounding on all sides
and little opportunity for growth.

But it was dad that needed space, and change,
and his decision to break with the past.
Mom never spoke of it, but now, I think
she has regrets that they struck out alone.

And sis and I, the two like the old man,
have likewise flung ourselves out and away —
with breathing room to reconstruct our lives
in different ways, by rules that we define.

How could mom be surprised? Our exodus
was fated from the start. There was no force
of nature, blood or even divine will
that could have keep us California-bound.

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