Joanne Diaz is the recipient of fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the author of My Favorite Tyrants (Winner of the Brittingham Prize, University of Wisconsin Press ) and The Lessons (Silverfish Review Press). She teaches in the English Department at Illinois Wesleyan University.
after Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
These days, I don't see just the tiny legs
of Icarus flailing
in the ice-cold waves, the plowman
steering his obedient horse,
and the shepherd looking up to expose
his face to the radiance of the sun.
I see the warhead that was stored
in an unlocked potato shed
in a small Ukrainian town,
I see it smuggled across the Caucasus
to Iran, I see it hitting the surface
of the water in the nanosecond
before the nuclear holocaust.
When I remember that it's not
a question of if but when,
I can imagine everything
within the frame of that painting
and that final explosion.
Today, in El Bruc, there's only one
pharmacy, one grocery, a public
swimming pool, and a bar, and from here,
I can hike all the way up
to the Black Virgin of Montserrat. I can eat
salchichón and Manchego every day
as a merienda, and I can watch
the grape leaves crackle and drift
from the trellis to the outdoor table
as a man, at ten in the morning,
drinks his beer and listens
to the car radio. Everyone's doing their best,
acting as if a bomb isn't
about to detonate at any minute,
and some act as if bombs
haven't detonated at all. Two days
after the Towers became ash,
my mother bought me a toaster from Kmart
and asked about my wedding plans
as she would have on any other day.
At the time, I thought callous, but now
I think constant. I like to believe
that we have evolved because of figures
like Icarus, but you don't have to be
an Old Master to know that isn't
the whole story. That plowman?
Of course he heard the splash,
the sounds of a drowning man. But he
had no idea how to swim, no interest
in knowing, and you'd have to be
a goddamned idiot to abandon your horse
and create two emergencies
where there was just one. Why not
tend to your own horse. Why not
go home to a crappy toaster
that sticks every time you push the lever.
from My Favorite Tyrants (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014),
winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry