Poem #17/52

Here is the seventeenth poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:

RESORT #2PBrueghelElderIcarus

the hot breeze blowing from the sea
as we walked the streets
and you asked about my unhappiness
there were tears rolling from both our faces
my voice shaking
then you running away
to catch up with my best friend
who could never love you
and I went to a bar alone
to drown myself in alcohol
planning a beautiful suicide
looking forward to it
so close to the edge
no dread or sadness
only the promise of peace
at the end of all suffering

the tapping at the window
then the mattress taken to the other room
the drunken giggles
then the usual noises

walking the town until morning
I came at last to the shore
and watched an old man fishing
his face worn hard as leather by the sea
waiting for a catch which never comes
the blood sun rose up and his friends ridiculed him
a dwarf watched a couple making love in the sand
as a lone boat sailed into the burning light
and the white town around the bay shone clearly
a distant mist hovering beneath the Minoan peaks
an image of persistence in adversity, absurdity;
-I knew that old man was me.

So there it is. Our second and final evocation of the joys and terrors of the resort holiday. Those once-beautiful places that tourists progressively transform into pure muck like a too-well-tramped pathway to the beach. No doubt we’ll do the same to alien worlds once day, given half a chance. Just as well it hasn’t dawned on our scientists yet that the fabric of spacetime is flat in interstellar space (without the gravity of large bodies to distort it) and therefore nothing is as far away as we currently believe it to be. A cosmic crèche principle. Stuff like that could make you believe in God. Just kidding.

This week’s images are two radically different artist’s depictions of the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus, reminding me of me and my friend H on holiday in Crete. H and I couldn’t have been more different, despite having grown up together in the same town. One day, out on the mopeds, we found a mural on the gable of a building near Chania, of the two Greek aeronauts and we both recognised the resonance. H was in his element in the resort world, trying to chat up a different woman every night, usually a breeze for him. But things didn’t go quite as either of us planned. I found myself, a cathartic and convulsive moment in my life, and thereby the strength to go on. He found an intelligent and creative woman who wanted to keep her virginity. Then she found me. Two years and a lot of letters later I suppose it all petered out. Nice place to meet people from all over the world, if you can forget for a moment about trying to shag them all… actually more rewarding that way.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s depiction of the fall of Icarus is a famous puzzle…. his message seems to be that nobody notices or cares the small detail of Icarus’s legs vanishing into the sea (bottom right in the composition)and ordinary life goes on regardless. The Lord Frederick Leighton version is odd in its own way too. Why is old Daedalus so tanned as to be almost black, while the boy Icarus is pale like an angel? Says a lot about the predilections and prejudices of the British Victorian society of the time, probably. There have been suggestions that Leighton was gay, and certainly Icarus is portrayed as an epitome of youth and beauty. I’d say Daedalus is being cast as Death here, leading doomed youth astray. At any rate, I’ve always found the old myth fascinating. It seems to me that wars are usually planned by old men so that young men can die in them, and that there’s some spiteful and jealous impulse hidden underneath all that. It’s still happening. Think of Bin Laden and all those deluded Jihadi suicide bombers or Indeed Margaret Thatcher and the young men who drowned in a cold Atlantic so that she could retrieve her political fortunes and get re-elected. The old subconsciously resent the young for their potential to outlive them. Far-right nutters in America (some of whom ran the country until recently) long for the Armageddon of the old testament because they’d hate to miss the end of a good movie. Could it be that simple? No, but they are.

To come back to the myth of Icarus in a final stab at self-analysis, I’d say that it has always had resonance with me because I always sensed that my father was jealous of me. It’s commoner than you think, and not talked-about often. If I was ever a father, I would like to think I would be better than that. But we can all only do our best. Forgive each other, Earthlings, for none of you are perfect.

This entry was posted in 52 Poem Sequence, Art, History, Poetry, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

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