Icarus at Varanasi

“I like to imagine Icarus, having fallen, having lost his wings, swimming to shore, crawling up the rocks, finding his new life, no longer son of the great Daedalus, but an anonymous man, lost, far from home, ordinary but alive.” ~ Kazim Ali, The Silver Road

It returns, that dream pattern: blue
rhizomes of water streaming outward,

receiving him as he falls out of the sky. Each
day, bells somberly intone from the shore

where the dead, wrapped in bright cotton
and gilded with marigolds, wait for pyres

to be lit on the ghats. He should have been
among them. But it’s years since he took up

this life, joined the others who tend the fires;
he’s learned how to stack kindling and scatter

a fine powder of sandalwood, smear surfaces
with ghee— the same way the dead are anointed

by those who still love them as fiercely as they did
when they were alive. It never grows old, his wonder-

ment at the rituals to prepare for release—
how a lattice of wood keeps the body from bolting

upright as its insides empty and the muscles
contract, as organs darken and shrink. If only

his father could witness how all that binds
sinew and flesh to its rudder of bone melts away

like honey, like oil. In this furnace, nothing stands
a chance; how could twine and a wingspan of feathers

outstrip the heat of the sun? After every burning,
ash in the air clings to your lashes, your clothing,

your skin. Finally, flames shoot out of the eye
sockets and the skull bursts open: and that great,

stumbling bird of the soul leaves windows and doors
flapping on their hinges as it exits the house.

Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

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