laugardagur, apríl 30, 2005


Passing back up behind the library café, a white dog is trotting down the hill towards me. He has big batlike ears held out to the sides like a Fennec fox, like a radio array. He comes around the front of the delivery van and turns his muzzle with mild interest in what might become visible on the long side of the vehicle.

There he pauses the barest instant: oh! (it may only have been a callused hind pad scratching against pavement, or it might have been a sharp intake of dog breath. Certainly the ears hitched up and forward a notch on his cranium) ---row upon row of fresh loaves of bread, and the sliding door of the van wide open, the driver nowhere in sight.

Then just as suddenly the ears slip back and down again and he regains his disinterested composure as if he has just remembered that fresh-baked bread is not a dog's dream of a perfect Saturday morning and that he is a dog.


Wire, I recall, is made by drawing, by pulling. The English word is old and comes from a root having to do with twisting. The German word draht has the pulling of draw and draught visible in it. Imagine before steam (18th century), before water wheels (not much earlier, really), drawing the metal by hand, straining and sweating, swearing at it when it broke (inevitable), straining to draw it anew.

föstudagur, apríl 29, 2005


Today there were jackrabbits, and Killer nearly gave himself whiplash watching them go rocketting into the brush. He had his tongue hanging so far out of his grin that I was half afraid that it was going to flap back and slap me in the head while I was re-stringing the guitar there in the back seat. I had found another E-string on the floor wrapped around a warm bottle of Cherry Coke and a couple of plastic spoons from Dairy Queen. I wiped the crud and dust off it and stretched it up the neck of the guitar while Killer rubbernecked and drooled into the wind.

Now the sun is going down and the light is getting long and red. I'm tuned up and picking out a melody just as it comes to me. Elvis isn't saying a thing, but I can see him nodding a little in time.

fimmtudagur, apríl 28, 2005

eitthvert bögg

There's been a Mosquito Hawk sitting high on the front wall of this room all week. For three days it was over on the south side of the window. Since then it's been over on the north side. It seems in no hurry, and I have had plenty of time to chase down its name.

This animal is a Crane Fly, called also in my version of English (obviously) a Mosquito Hawk, but contrary to the common wisdom about Mosquito Hawks, Crane Flies do not eat mosquitos. However in another version of English, a Mosquito Hawk is a Dragonfly, and they do indeed eat mosquitos. Clearly the common wisdom cited above crossed a dialect boundary at some point before getting to me.

Vexatiously enough the Crane Fly has another troublesome name. At least in Britain, it is a Daddy Longlegs. This disturbs me, for I grew up knowing the Daddy Longlegs as the arachnid (but not actual spider) also called the Harvestman.

It gets worse. The Mosquito Hawk is also the name of a bird, a nighthawk also called the Goatsucker. Except that Goatsucker is the usual rendering of the Spanish chupacabra, which is an utterly different creature, one I am fairly glad is not sitting on my front wall, neither to the left nor to the right of the window.

þriðjudagur, apríl 26, 2005


The earth has turned and tipped, and now morning sunlight comes pouring down into the shower through the window as the steam goes slipping past in the other direction, upward and out.

mánudagur, apríl 25, 2005

svo segja vitrir menn

Sure is a lot of desert to this desert. Elvis doesn't answer. He's driving and singing: wiiiise men saaaay ... Actually he's gone past singing and he's got a good yodel on. To be honest, it's beginning to get on my nerves. I kind of want to tell him to reel it on in a little bit. I'd sort of hint at him by playing something else on the guitar, but the E-string broke this morning, and in any case the dog is asleep with his head stretched out across the neck of the thing. He's dreaming something, I know, because he's barking and yipping all quietly, talking in his sleep.


Dashing out of the house for an appointment in the city, she grabs a milky white piece of sea glass off the shelf and thrusts it deep into a pocket. She keeps a finger curled around it as she strides to the station. On the train, she places it on her tongue. It is still salty. The roundness of it is awkward in her mouth. When her attention wanders, it scrapes again her teeth. She tries to hold it steady as she exits the train on the other side and heads up the street to the hotel bar. The salt has worn off it by the time she pushes through the doors. Seated in a leather-covered chair, she balances the piece glass, oblate, the size of a thrush's egg, and pours a berry-flavored cocktail past it. Over the course of the evening she nearly forgets how the glass feels in her mouth. It is warm now and tastes almost like the rest of what her tongue finds on the hindside of her teeth. Paying, pushing back out through the doors, she sucks on the white glass quite unconsciously, only distantly registering a mineral flavor. On the train again, somewhere between here and there, she remembers the glass and presses it against her palate, traces around the shape of it with the tip of her tongue. She reaches home and shuts the door behind herself, takes the glass from her mouth with thumb and forefinger, and places it on the nightstand before climbing into bed to sleep.

laugardagur, apríl 23, 2005


Prince Edward
Novaya Zemlya

out of joint

I get in late, tired, and pour myself some port. A long day. Speeches, remembrance, too much finger food and white wine. Story in plenty, a surfeit of tales. One friend telling how a mysterious fever had come upon him and held him in its pinching grip for days, only to break suddenly as he entered the hall, leaving him soaked with sweat but able to speak. I looked at him with a wild eye, ready to see blood spout from his ears, to watch him burst his white shirt with grief. He looked wry and reached for the wine.

Back at my desk, I seem to have left a book open, the last page read held open with a bottle of painkillers resting lightly in the spine. Seven of my ten roses have been lop-headed for days already. The white one is still in glorious bloom, shining in sympathy with the moon outside.

fimmtudagur, apríl 21, 2005


Day breaks over these hillsides. During the night, a shopping trolley has been placed in the middle of the reflecting pool. It stands almost hovering over the still water. In the morning light, it invites a contemplation, a solemn monument to the produce aisle.


An alliterative week, this. Here are some words with F:


Concealedness. Saw this in Snorri's Óláfs saga helga, ch. 83. A pleasing substantive. It has the solidity of a nice piece of origami, as if the papery verb fela, "to hide," had been folded and crimped into a small box of surprising soundness.


A mote, as of dust, sometimes a flake, as of snow. I renewed my acquaintance with this word in a huge book of Norwegian poetry that, honestly, no one reads. Me included. It is exactly the right name for light things of that nature, things that might land on your face and tickle, provoke a smile or a sneeze.


An old word in English, one older than the convention of spelling that last chuffing sound with a ch. Etymology unclear, I see, "perhaps imitative (?)" Who knows. There have been purple ones raucous at the window in the mornings.

miðvikudagur, apríl 20, 2005

shoulder, wheel

Guitar's in the back seat. Car's pulled over to the side of the road. Killer is out peeing on a rock. Now he's run round back the car after some shiny black bird. He barks and the bird flies up. Long tail, black like oil on the tarmac, little yellow eyes. Elvis standing out in front of the car. He has his hand out flat, shading his eyes, looking off down the road ahead. Well? I say. Naw, he says, not even halfway there yet.

þriðjudagur, apríl 19, 2005

nær og fjær

Purple finches, brilliant azure Stellar's Jays, a great black crow. These all flapped past the fire escape this morning. Amorous doves can be heard cooing in buildings' every crevice. The days are brighter and birdsong extends long into the evening, starts early in the morning. Even in the dark, something avian is apt to chirrup or tweet or make some other nightjarring noise outside my window while I sleep.

As a result of this or else despite it, I crave weighty, pointed svartfuglsegg, speckled and dusky blue. I lie half-dreaming of red yolks fat with fish oil, so rich they taste like salmon paté, in milky translucent whites that never turn wholly white, not even upon baking.

mánudagur, apríl 18, 2005


I figure the EM range du jour to be around Å 5800-6100. The week's flowers are roses, a rich yellow intensifying into a firey orange at the ruffled edges and outermost insides of the petals. There is one white one among them, looking rather at a loss. But the incandescent yellow-orange rhymes well with the peculiar citrus item I purchased where I had found the roses. Shaped like a lemon, colored more like an orange, I did not know what it was when I hefted it and did not bother to ask when I bought it. When I cut into it later, though, it yielded lovely flesh that tasted about Å 6000, too tart for orange and too orange for lemon, and I realized immediately as white steam flowed around the edge of the lid on a nearby pot that it was exactly right for squeezing over the asparagus therein.

sunnudagur, apríl 17, 2005

any road

Still driving in the desert with Elvis. Elvis is napping with his feet on the dash. The dog has his paws up on the wheel. The dog's name is Killer, but so far no one's even gotten hurt. Pretty good driver, that Killer. I'm counting armadillos by the side of the road when I drop off myself. I dream about tuning the guitar, turning the pegs tighter and tighter, trying for some ever-higher pitch, and in the dream the strings stretch all the way across the sandy dirt and out of sight over the horizon, like telegraph wires, like high-tension power lines, but not high-tension enough to get the sound I'm looking for, listening for, and I keep turning the pegs until my thumb hurts.

It must be a pretty high pitch I do get finally, though, because I wake up to Killer barking at me and Elvis is driving again.

laugardagur, apríl 16, 2005

hitt og þetta

A selection of things encountered over the past few weeks in dreams:

  • the author of some nostalgia-provoking prose seen online
  • the idea of learning (in earnest) French
  • some Central American mammals (family Procyonidæ) waving their tails

föstudagur, apríl 15, 2005

flb. 324

Driving in the desert with Elvis and a dog, Elvis gets tired of holding the wheel. He says it's my turn to drive, but I can't drive, I say, still strumming the guitar, I wouldn't trust myself at the wheel. Well, you can play instead while I take a rest, he says, but who's going to drive meanwhile? I say the dog might as well drive as me. So we put the dog's feet up on the wheel and wedge a boot against the pedal. Elvis closes his eyes and I keep playing, and we go on like that for a while.

fimmtudagur, apríl 14, 2005


I never played with that classic children's toy, the "telephone" made of two tin cans and a piece of string, although I knew about it as a theoretical entity. But in my thought-experiment-prone mind I made plenty of them, and I was always disappointed to see that they were useless to me. The communication at a distance I wanted to take part in was inevitably one in which my interlocutor was out of sight, around a corner. The edge of the sheetrock wall or the bend in the staircase would have stopped the signal like a finger pressed onto a fretboard, and nothing would have gotten through.

More fascinating to me in actual practice was an ungainly instrument made for me by a family friend out of a cigarbox, a chair leg, a nylon string, and a tuning peg. I would twist the peg forwards and backwards, loosening and tightening, and make the plucked string twang crazily up and down the scale.

miðvikudagur, apríl 13, 2005


Something gray-white and round-seeming thumps against the window from without, and I think a ball has been thrown from the street below, a handball maybe -- something softer than a baseball or a softball. The glass only rang slightly, there are no cracks, but I do not know yet what has happened or if it will happen again, and I am cautious going to peer out and down.

The street is empty. The barest pale flapping is visible for a moment between the leaves of the sycamore.

It was a dove, a dove; the roundness of its breast has left a print on the outer surface of the glass, a colorless image of a hundred tiny feathers. Two bits of down from the gray throat stick where I cannot reach them from inside. They twirl now in the evening wind.

þriðjudagur, apríl 12, 2005

for wætere ne murnon

At the reflecting pool, two dogs going around and around, the black spaniel mix up on the stone coping, the red-nosed pointer in the water itself up to her elbows and hocks. The water not very good for reflecting at that moment, having been warmed by the sun and made habitable for all manner of greenish slime, both that sort that likes to float on the surface and that other sort that likes to make long translucent streamers at the middle depths. These both types totally fascinating to the red pointer, pawing at the submarine gauze and scooping at the floating clots with her open snout, letting the green dribble over her jowls, finding now a stick (a stick!) made black and compellingly spongy by the action of the water, and giving it a thorough mouthing before letting it drop back with a splash. (The spaniel, a dog with shorter legs and longer hair, wisely opting to remain a spectator to these proceedings, but with palpable vicarious enjoyment.) The pointer's front end all focussed on these aquatic doings, the red prow of her chest steering around the perimeter of the pool just above the surface of the water, forelegs striking out and down like oars.

Her hind legs, however, working according to another plan, drawing up sharply with each step, the thick muscle of the haunch contracting as some automatic part of the dog brain (that subordinate part with charge of the aft portion of the dog) gave the orders to lift the legs clear of whatever nasty wet stuff they had stepped in.

mánudagur, apríl 11, 2005

allt í kaósi

Some people are great believers in the power of making lists in the fight against encroaching chaos and entropy. I am even related to some such people. My own mileage has varied, it must be said.

But I am growing desperate. Surrounded by multiplying signs of displacement, swirling disorder, a Charybdis of disarray, I grasp at straws. Here is the first list. In no particular order, this Sunday included:
pain chocolat
Ibsen (in translation)
no comic books after all

I am not certain this will help, but I am resolved to keep an open mind.

laugardagur, apríl 09, 2005

here & there

I order a cappuccino at my local café (the one I like so well because it seems not local with its selection of wines and its multilingual clientele), make a lame joke involving monks to my theologian companion, and push the rumpled bills across the marble towards the counter girl, saying there you go. The counter girl pushes the cappuccino back towards me, scoops up the bills and puts them in the register drawer, picks out the change and pushes it across the marble towards me, saying in her light accent there you go.

Five minutes later I am still wondering what she was saying in her mind, because I can tell she is doing what I am doing, using that same lame translation in an attempt to smooth this rough edge in human interaction, the thrusting of an object in the direction of another person. I have come to be annoyed by this edge, and in my mind I was saying gerðu svo vel or maybe vær så god. She cannot have been thinking those same words. But I wonder what she was thinking just then, where she was.

föstudagur, apríl 08, 2005

morgenstund med Jørgen Leth

Se det perfekte menneske. Det perfekte menneske beveger sig i et rom. Nu sidder hun ned. Hun sidder ned. Det perfekte menneske sidder ved pulten og prøver at udskrive. Se det perfekte menneske prøve at udskrive et dokument. Det er et meget vigtig dokument. Det perfekte menneske kan ikke udskrive dette dokument, fordi printeren ikke er lige perfekt som mennesket selv. Printeren er noget lort. Se printeren; den er noget lort.

zone des arrivées

Watching a Danish film among friends, a scene shot in Belgium provokes laughter. We watch the man on the screen, himself a film director, opting not to walk down a narrow hallway in his Brussels hotel. Clearly audible on the track are the carryings-on of a couple in one of the rooms. It is not clear which room it is. It is clear that the woman involved is having a good time. Yes! she cries, yes! yes!

In our room, the one with the television, there is chuckling at the discomfort of the director (hvad tænker han på?) and at the double scene of eavesdropping. Someone says, Wait, she's coming in English?

fimmtudagur, apríl 07, 2005

morgunn og kvöld


Oh, why did you wake me just then? I wasn't finished dreaming.

It's time to get up. What were you dreaming that was so remarkable?

I was reading a huge leather-bound book. I was just turning the last page when you roused me.

Oh --


Is that thunder in the distance? What a strange spring it has been, full of rumbles and thunderclaps, so unusual for this coast. Maybe it is thunder, and it will rain in the night and that bell will ring all through my dreams.

miðvikudagur, apríl 06, 2005

amuse bouche

I have been sprawled in the afternoon sun on what I like to think of as a divan reading Flateyjarbók. I would not have imagined myself doing this, ever, even a few years ago, but no matter. That is what I have been doing. As I go, I have made note of a few words that have struck my fancy:


Coming upon such words while consuming text is like getting a nice salt crystal between your teeth, a white flower-of-the-sea or a gray grain of Maldon, making you stop for a bare instant, about to worry that you have bitten down on a small stone (and so you have) and that you may break a tooth in the middle of this heretofore very enjoyable meal. Just then, it crunches and dissolves, releasing its mineral flavor into the surrounding mouthful of words, and you swallow it all, remarking once more to yourself on the quality of the repast, readying yourself for another gluttonous bite.

súreygðr - "sour-eyed" I feel I have seen this physiognomy more than once.

þarvist - "there-being" More specific than the abstract presence, this word captures the immediacy of being there.

skerjótt - "skerried" Of offshore waters dangerous for being full of sharp rocks. The adjectival suffix -ótt is infrequent in general but common in color terms, especially those specialized ones used of horses. As a consequence, I picture the skerjótt sea dappled, gray, and heaving like a sweat-dampened flank.

Verði ykkur að góðu.

þriðjudagur, apríl 05, 2005


Over lunch I point my fork at my companion with intentional rudeness and growl: now don't you go anywhere! He laughs into his wine, a genuine laugh. It's good to hear it, and it goes well with the wine. At lunch I am still thinking about larger-than-life people and things. Giants under everything, like Ymir, like the Derby Tup whose song I remember hearing many years ago:

The horns that grew on this tup's head
They grew so mighty high.
That every time it shook its head
They rattled against the sky.

And this ram is dispatched by the butcher in gouts of blood, and the world, it seems, it made from his corpse, but it is the world of the everyday people of Derby, a world of aprons, bellpulls and other necessary objects:

And all the boys of Derby
Came begging for his eyes,
To make a pair of footballs,
For they were just the size.

Not a bad legacy, when you really think about it. Especially as we already have clouds, rocks, all of those things.

And now my song is ended,
I have no more to say;
So please will you give us a New Year's gift
And let us go away . . .

mánudagur, apríl 04, 2005


A distant tolling or a quiet chime, I have heard a bell ring somewhere between near and far since August and not known what I was hearing.

A clock? An etymological klukka? A passing wild surmise: Íslands klukkan? A chime? It was not the nearby tower; I know the sound of that carillion. It was not any of the nearby chapels either, and this invisible bell was not always a Sunday sound, though today it was.

At Lund in December, where a monstrous molar of Starkaðr the Old once hung from a klukkustrengr, a great curiousity, I thought again of how inconceivably loud the tolling of churchbells must have been in the medieval mind. In the age long before screeching brakes, internal combustion, and the jet, settlements still clustered within earshot of the church tower, the bell tower, and the clang of the bronze was proof against night trolls. Collections of later legends are full of stories of this or that jøtul who hated the newfangled bells that had been hoisted into the steeple and who had moved house, grumpily, into the higher hills and mountains, further away from the haunts of men.

What bell was this, what manner of being was it meant to drive away, or in whose honor was it ringing? Some newly-dead patriarch? I could think of more than one who might qualify.

Today I solved the mystery. The bell chimes in the rain, often but not regularly, as if it were tolling in time with someone of uneven and hestitant gait. It is, I realize, raindrops driven by the force of the wind against the metal flanges of the gas heater that extends through the wall, venting to the outside:

peng peng peng pang peng

sunnudagur, apríl 03, 2005

að týnast

Items lost recently include the opportunity to buy roses, the entire forenoon, and seven thick slices of day-old bread---though the latter were lost in the French sense, soaked in milk and egg and fried in butter with pears. Also missing: one hour in the early morning of the next day.

laugardagur, apríl 02, 2005


From three to five we are all too much in the sun, and less than kin, facing west in the waning day and listening to our collective dermis crisp slightly in the slanting ultraviolet. One by one, brittle-seeming people stand and recount tales and anecdotes, reckon lines of descent and relation.

At one end of the gathering, overheard, one man mentions a friend who hadn't found out until today, and who was all but certain that it had been a joke. Would have been just like him, really.

föstudagur, apríl 01, 2005


The call comes in, and I hear.

No, I say, terrible. How? And I had been about to give him a fat stack of paper to read, too. Well, it sounds like he went as he would have liked to, in a way. He had always spoken with admiration about a friend who had been found upright at his typewriter.

I send the call back out.

Some disbelief, some shock here and there. Some already know. Soon there is a buzzing network a-chatter, spanning continents already, and the story gets told again and again, call and response (No! Terrible. How?), with minor variations (I know! Terrible, yes ...). Always the same story, though.

It is taking shape. In a few days, it will have its own life. It will hazard its way out into the larger society of narrative, bumping up against other tales told about this man and others like him (already I can tell that this story and the story of the typewriting friend will themselves become fast companions, more often together than apart), and making the rounds wherever so-minded folk meet. Never quite the same twice, but always recognizably the same story.

I am nagged by the feeling that there ought to be another version. I haven't heard it yet, but it is very likely out there; I simply haven't spoken to the right person, the right teller who knows this story (recognizably the same story) but knows it with a different ending.
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