How Eternal Night Was Created
“The sun is the size of a nickel,”
mused Icarus, flapping his wings
in slow, graceful waves. Though
he said drachma, don’t you think?
Icarus boldly swooped upward,
his beechwood pinions creaking
like yew trees bent in a storm,
goatskin leather snapping in wind.
Icarus envisioned licking the white
disk and slapping it on his forehead.
The sun as third eye, he’d heard,
would make the bearer an emperor.
He soared and climbed three days,
the sun shining the entire trip,
until Icarus could extend his hand
to cup it, a small flattened seashell.
Icarus plucked the brilliant sun
from the sky, like picking an olive
or a pomegranate. Bringing the coin
to his lips, his fingers slipped and
it slid past his tongue and down
his gullet. The body of Icarus glowed
for an instant, radiating an aura
of blazing, dazzling incandescence.
Then Icarus exploded. Blew up.
Blasted. Flared. Burst. Shattered
into a trillion glittery particles
sprayed out across the sky. Stars.
So there you have it. Deepest dark.
Midnight without end. Sky blue
vanished for ever. Never again
a rainbow or a bright sundog.
Only the blood red moon swims
across the firmament, rivers
and oceans of molten stone
pox her face, alchemists tell us.
No flowers painting the land
as when Icarus lived: magnolias,
amaryllis, and roses in dreams;
lilies, irises, and orchids in legend.
The land itself barren: obsidian
and granite crags, jagged spars
of sharp ice, cliffs, promontories,
harsh peaks of rugged mountains.
Icarus? He got his heart’s desire.
His wings forever curve across
the empyrean night. His morsels
scintillate like jewels in a crown.
Letter to Zelazny from Olympus Mons
— after Richard Hugo
Dear Roger, you don’t know me but we met once at a
little literary bookstore in San Jose, California. Not
that we met, exactly. Rather, you signed my book. Two
of them. One was Creatures of Light and Darkness, which
I was buying that evening; you inscribed it with simply
your name. The other was an old dog-eared copy of Lord of Light I had brought with me; in that one you wrote
“Good wishes.” What a treat that small sentiment was. I
didn’t tell you how years before, a single image of
yours from “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” had inspired me
immensely: a description of some kind of wheeled rover
skidding across the surface of Mars, splashing red sand
upward like a flame. That image resonates with me to
Although you flew years ago into the primum mobile,
into the undiscovered country, on an invisible flying
saucer of your own making, I’m writing you today
because I am standing at the foot of Olympus Mons,
largest volcano in the solar system, near Tharsis on
Mars. Yes sir, on Mars. And this morning, I saw in real
life that image of a vehicle’s wheels setting the
Martian ground on cold, gritty fire. You nailed that
image, Roger . . . you got it exactly right.
That’s not all. It would amaze you — no, tickle your
fancy — to know Edgar Rice Burroughs was actually
writing nonfiction. Yes, we have found Helium (not the
element, but the city!) on Mars. Or as it’s really
called, it turns out, Barsoom. Helium is still ruled,
lo these many decades later, by Dejah Thoris and John
Carter, still young as ever. And yes, six-limbed
reptilian green men! It’s all here, Roger: the huge
white apes, the fliers that can fly a couple of hundred
miles per hour, the spider-legged nothing-but-head
Kaldanes perched on their headless Rykor bodies . . .
What’s even more amazing than all that is something
even you could never have imagined. As we both know
from Burroughs’s novels, John Carter was not always
on Barsoom. There were long periods he spent back on
Earth. The unbelievably amazing part, Roger, is that
John Carter had a secret identity during one of those
periods: Frank Frazetta. Or rather Frazetta was Carter.
How about that? Frazetta’s very influential art, like
Burroughs’s evidently realistic travelogues, was also
nonfictional. Carter has told me all the art he created
as Frazetta was modeled not only on Barsoomian
commonplaces but on actual scenes he witnessed in his
travels through the shadow worlds between Amber and
the Courts of Chaos. Yes, that’s right . . .Amber. The
secret is out, Roger. It seems you, like Burroughs
and who knows who else, were writing journalism all
along and not science fiction or fantasy. Aren’t you
a crafty old dawg!
So, Roger, I’m writing to ask you to come back. Yes,
I’ve guessed that you are still very much alive. That
when I said “invisible flying saucer” above I was being
quite literal. Yup, all the evidence points to this
conclusion. Anyway, I’d like to invite you to join me
on expedition. Come on down, Roger. What do you
think? Let’s go find Pellucidar! Shall we? It will be
like following in the footsteps of Dante towards the
center of the Earth. I’ve heard rumors that Pellucidar
is where Sasquatch hides out. Send me a sign, okay?
Maybe a scarlet Z emblazoned across the heavens. Or
even a double Z for the two z’s in your surname.
I remain, as always, your fan and, I hope soon, your
Vince Gotera serves as Editor of the North American Review. He also teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Northern Iowa. His poetry books include Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, Fighting Kite, and the forthcoming Pacific Crossing. His favorite color is blue, in all its dynamic shades and flavors: electric, royal, sky, teal, ultramarine.