The Flight of Icarus - Iron Maiden

There are the two goals: there is the marathon, and there is the book. The novel. The beast. I started the thing in a lonely room in Brooklyn. Windsor Terrace. That was 2006 I think. The novel is a re-telling of the myth of Pandora in modern day New York. The first version sported six narrators and fifteen fonts. The thing was fun to spit out, when I managed to find any time or presence to do it. I love all the Gods running around the city, thinking up new ways for their stories to fit into my brain and back onto the page. Eventually, though, the book began to ask me for a form and structure: Some rules and a goal. It was during a run a few weeks ago when I came to accept the tentacled nature of the piece wasn't a sustainable way to write a book. It's my first book and in the stride of the run, it felt okay for me to let it go. It didn't mean I was  failure or that I could never write a book. It didn't mean I would set it on fire or delete it. It just meant I had to find a new way to tell the story, scale back some of the character arcs, and wrestle one of the main characters from the narrative to leave her gently by the side of the road. Plus, it made me rethink what the whole point was. 

This piece right here is told from the point of view of Icarus. Icarus only talks in poems. He's not what they told you in class. In my book, Icarus wasn't a fool whose curiosity and hubris overtook him. In my book, Icarus was born in a girl's body to a single father so busy looking good to all of Athens, all of Crete, that he couldn't stand his daughter's failure at femininity. Icarus threw himself into the sun, a suicide in the making. In some versions of the Icarus myth, Hercules finds the body and brings it back to the shores of Greece. This is how my Icarus makes his way through a thousand years before he goes to New York only to find Pandora...

i got hercules to tell folks 
he buried the body. 
dug his fingertips into
the seabed
halfway to hades
laid me in.
a fallen angel, 
a cliche.
i told him my story
for he’d never seen one like me
the other side of dionysus.
and so he saved me. 
a misshapen boy, 
still smelling of 
burnt hair
still smelling for a way out
from under a father
who thinks she’s gone.
a would-be suicide 
knocking around the edges
of empires
waiting for somewhere to be, 
somehow to be. 
impossible fashion of a toga
and a crown of olive branches.
what can a boy hide in there?
a dagger, sure
but not breasts. 
i spent most of 
a thousand years
in the middle place,
working out 
unworkable things 
with sisyphus.
we pushed his rock around. 
up up up
we climbed hundreds of times, 
then millions
the same mountain. 
pushing the same rock.
that is how the books tell it
but it is easy to forget
that each day a rock changes
the mountain shifts.
a person changes.
it is the way of life.
there is only change.
there is the fact 
about erosion
how the rock smoothed out 
under his hands,
how the hand would callous 
upon the rock
the skin would blister
and erupt
then harden,
turn yellow.
tear right off.
his leg muscles began to bulge
and i greened with envy
finding a stone to push next to him.
we’d trod up the slope
talking about the sky
the navy night
and love.
over and again.
up and then down,
florite, limestone and quartz,
the mountain sparkled in the face
of his pain. his daily offerings of 
whatever keeps a man going.
no one thought to retell in the books
about how he
moved the stone to the left a little,
so he wouldn’t kill the flowers in the spring.
mashing their sprouted heads
back into the stone and the mud.
about how he wept the first few hundred years
figuring out his own trap.
the ego is a practice.
a whiner.
a bully with your lunch money.
that first autumn in the rains 
of the middle place
he just pushed up 
the same route 
again and then again.
how was he to know?
a rookie.
he whittled a hollow so deep
a river of hera’s bitter tears 
rolled down over thick roots 
of burdock
and horseradish
fell down 
and made swamp,
a marsh
a great salt lake
and then an ocean.
i’d float on my back in it
some days
watching him work
letting the sun hit my chest
hoping the growing breasts would burn off
sizzle sunny side up
like a diner breakfast.
weak coffee and salt water
take the ovaries for eggs i thought,
but they did not.
they grew more beautiful, 
sisyphus could not understand my frustration 
with the gorgeous sacs.
the way they bounced 
like something splendid happened
every time i took a step.

Sara Elise


  1. oh, so beautiful.... so beautiful. I love the thought of Icarus being a girlboy... and her single father not being able to deal with her unsuccessful femininity. And I love that icarus attaches himself to sisyphus -- the rock is change, erosion.... and i love the wish that she could serve the overies for eggs....

    and what is this you are saying about the book? where is it going? is icarus being left at the side of the road or is s/he still there? and what about pandora?