Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Fall

I’ve always thought I could fly.

Less now at age six, but still sometimes

in dreams, when nobody’s looking. So

when Father began working with wax and feathers and thread,

building wings, disembodied, like those of birds,

I saw nothing in them of flying, nothing in them of

me. In my dreams I

fly with my arms, I fly by my strength,

I fly because I am special.

I have no need of these awkward feathered toys

like too-large shoes, lashed

to my arms by Father’s trembling, calloused hands as

with half an ear I listen to his cautious words.

Father is sweating on his forehead,

in his armpits. He shows me how to flap

these wings, he is taking too long.

At last I move my arms, my

sandals kiss grey stones and rough grass

goodbye. Flying is not as easy as I had imagined,

but I learn quickly. Father looks like a wasp buzzing

straight and slow; I am a swallow.

On the beach below, a girl is collecting stones.

Her back is to me, and when she turns,

the stones fall from her hand.

I swoop.

I laugh into her open mouth.

The shore becomes small, and smaller still, a white

scalloped line dividing brown from blue.

I put it behind me. The wind on the sea is cold

and strong, but I am stronger. I climb, then

dive, a thousand swallows beating

in my stomach as I fall, calming when

I spread my wings and right myself. Still Father

plumbs his line, a wasp never faltering between sea

and cloud. Follow me, he said, but I ignore

him now. Clouds are like fine mist against my cheeks,

enveloping white, cool as dawn.

Still I climb. I must be higher now even

than Mount Olympus. I break through the clouds

like a world being born. Everything here is clear, bright,

still. Below me clouds are my own

pillowed bed, broad as the horizon. I

dive into them straight and fast, wings by my sides, head

thrown back, and the clouds swallow me, burning

the insides of my nose like the sea.

I climb. I am brave as any warrior, braver

than Father, higher now than Zeus himself.

I climb. I feel I will never tire. I am swallow,

I am wind, I am cloud, I am sun.

I climb. Nothing now can stop me. Men will speak of me

around campfires at night.

Now feathers begin falling from me one by

one. As they circle

downward, fringed with light, I know

I’m becoming everything I

was meant to be, that soon I will shed these wings,

I will fly with my arms,

I will fly

by my strength.

I find I am screaming my father’s name.

In my stomach

a thousand swallows rage,

I beat my arms but find

no purchase,

I fall.


The myth of Daedalus and Icarus has always resonated with me. I actually did believe I could fly when I was a child, before I learned to separate dreams from waking. It was something I could only do when no one was watching, my secret gift. I think I've always been afraid that if I were to become all I dream of becoming, if I were to fly, I would outgrow the ones I love and be forced to leave them behind. I would be alone. I know this isn't true, not exactly. Yet see these hobbles? I tie them on myself.

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