Poetry: self-portrait as icarus in the labyrinth by Ashleigh Xindan Kennedy

In Ashleigh Xindan Kennedy’s poem, the reader is trapped between past and present, longing and loss, put into the perspective of both Icarus and the Minotaur. The narrator explores what it is to be human or maybe not human at all, speaking of wings and the sea and “an itch for some blue,” all while the wax continues to melt.

self-portrait as icarus in the labyrinth

     with a line from Natalie Diaz


some nights i swallow the cry

of the beast beside me,

cup his horns into my

hands. his whines slicing

through the walls, my throat,

dark notes dripping

from his chin. his face: velveteen

and bleeding, snout speckled

with snot. his hands: human

and divine, cradling the arc

between my wings. some nights

i pretend he’s mine. we’re not

so different as minos

would have me think. half

man, all hoof. what myth

makes him animal, while my

name flutters in your mouth? he

was born cursed, or so athens

echoes in the streets, his mother queen

of whores, his father a beautiful

brute, and lo, out came

a monster, hurled soon beneath

the city. meanwhile, i was sewn

into air, tight gasp

of needles laced into

my spine, my father’s threads

twining through my veins. i know

i was made a mutant, and yet i can’t

remember being human now. these wings,

if not the gods’, still hurtle me toward

eternity, an itch for some blue ache

of air, the city splayed beneath me

like a lover, before a jailbird’s

hover brings me to my knees. some

nights, i dream of the sea: asterion

beside me, the two of us spilling down

before the sun, wax washed

from my shoulder blades, pinions

unpinned from steel

and stitches, plumes unfurling

with a sigh. i step

into the aftermath, hooves

in hand, and there, strewn

before us: the sky, stripped

for invention.

Ashleigh Xindan Kennedy

Ashleigh Xindan Kennedy is an MFA candidate at the University of Mississippi, where she is a John and Renée Grisham Fellow and a reader for the Yalobusha Review. She has previously been published by the Sigma Tau Delta Review and Literary Orphans, and has twice received the Laura A. Rice Poetry Prize. She hails from Central Pennsylvania and Central China.

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