laugardagur, júlí 30, 2005


How is it that there are always boxes yet unpacked? Even after she seems to herself to be all moved in, settled and fully engaged in living life in the new space, yet more mysterious, taped-shut cardboard boxes will emerge and then weigh unsettlingly on her mind. Do they find each other in the back of the closet and engage in furtive mating rituals, snuffling and rustling beneath the long winter coats, disrupting the neatly lined-up shoes and producing offspring in the form of still more boxes full of unknown, half-remembered articles?

She feels like Pandora in reverse, a packrat of mythic scale. Today several more of them appear, heavy, dense. What could be so important that she bothered to pack it or them in these boxes and haul them here, yet so unessential to daily life that it has not yet been missed? She reaches for the knife with one hand and slices one open, removes its contents, and puts them in their proper places, or places that will pass for proper. Old notebooks half-filled with notes, fiction purchased in distant airports, these are set on a lower shelf; audio cassette tapes - those relics! - stowed in a drawer; whimsical hats stacked above the woolens and foul-weather gear. The empty cardboard she slashes again and folds down, turns into a satisfyingly flat thing with no secrets in it. The activity has a pleasing forward momentum, a feeling of getting things done.

The third box beckons, and she reaches again for the knife, slips the point into the translucent tape and draws it down, down, and it bursts open at her. She is blinded, arms held before her face by reflex, the knife forgotten, and when she opens her eyes to look out past her wrists, she sees the room full of small birds. They wheel in a mass in the cramped space and flow like smoke out the open window. Her skin tingles every place their feathers brushed by her.

fimmtudagur, júlí 28, 2005

á þakinu

Crows especially talkative today. Perhaps there is some bit of crow politics astir about which we know nothing. One alighted on the gutter on the building opposite and picked at something in the downspout for a few moments before sauntering up the roofline with that air of studied but not wholly successful casualness usually seen in human males of about fourteen or fifteen years of age. Finding himself at the apex, the only way to retain his cool was to flap off into the trees.

miðvikudagur, júlí 27, 2005


I have just become aware of the Isle of Mousa and these Shetlandic words, all of them animals one might find in the Mousa Sound:

Skooty Aalin

That would be harbor porpoise, arctic skua, great skua, storm petrel, black guillemot, and arctic tern.

þriðjudagur, júlí 26, 2005


In the morning there are crackly fish skins like shoe soles lying on the table in a fine dust of ammonia-smelling shards. A divot has also been carved into the butter and a bottle of lager emptied. She must have gotten up in the middle of the night and gone tearing through the freezer in search of harðfiskur, possessed by some weird mix of Þorgunna and the nameless, ox-tailed creature heard munching the dried fish in Eyrbyggja 53.

She shrugs, sweeps up the mess, and heads out for the local café. They are playing Björk.


Noh, bara geysimyndilegur!

"Noh" is always hard to translate, but the phrase as a whole is perhaps best rendered as Heeeyyy, he's really handsome! And yet that does quite capture it either.

The element geysi- is the same as in Geysir, the periodically erupting hot spring whose name has become the English word for all other such geysers. In Iceland they are goshverir to distinguish them from the many other burbling, steaming, splattering things dotting the landsape.

The verb underlying both geysi- and gos- is gjósa, to gush or spout. Geysir means "gusher." Gos by itself is an eruption, in Iceland often volcanic, but now also denotes a sweet carbonated beverage, soda, pop, what you will (possibly Egils appelsín but perhaps not malt, which though both sweet and lightly fizzy is still just malt, I think, drekkur í sérflokki).

Geysi- is an all-purpose intensifier. Which is to say that when Icelanders gush about something, as above, they don't do so with the verb, as in English ("Hey! He's really handsome!" she gushed), but rather just tack geysi- onto the front of all the adjectives. Then everything becomes gushingly exciting (geysispennandi), gushingly good (geysigott), gushingly handsome (geysimyndilegur).

Sometimes this incorporation of the outburst itself (gos?) into the intensifying prefix sounds to me like overpronunciation, like stage directions read aloud, or like kids enunciating comic-book sound effects, thinking they are words: paff! gisp! sukk!

mánudagur, júlí 25, 2005


I notice today on the treadmill that the comfortable lope I have settled into is the same lope I found comfortable at fourteen. At least, it is a lope that would take me a mile on the flat in exactly the time I tended to complete a mile on the school's cinder track as a fourteen-year-old. I stare into the glass wall of the squash court before me. My own dim outline is reflected back, jouncing through the paces, but of course it is not the outline of me at fourteen. All for the best, really.

sunnudagur, júlí 24, 2005


Picking up the threads of communication on a slow Saturday night, it strikes me that they are less strands (þættir, whatever) than loops. Correspondence is after all a back-and-forth. Each missive rests on a curving course, a bead on a bent wire, and both ends sit either with me or with the other writer. Coming back to my stack of owed letters, I am returning to a piece of half-finished knitting. Some parts have ravelled, and I regret not having passed a crochet hook and a thick piece of yarn through where the needles had been, but as is often the case, I thought I would only be a moment when I put the whole thing down.

laugardagur, júlí 23, 2005


Rereading Ibsen's viking tragedy in search of the howlingly bad lines I half remember, the ones lifted not so much wholesale but at prices as low as 60% off from Iceland's worthiest sagas, I am surprised to find fewer of them this time. I am more surprised to be caught fast again by the painful plot: Ørnulf asking after his son, unable to understand why the others are so pale and silent ... why does he not come to greet his father? Hjørdis seeing the glint of happiness that could be hers after all and despite everything and, full of hope in this scene alone, grasping for it. Sigurd denying, denying, convincing no one but ensuring a rending denouement.

fimmtudagur, júlí 21, 2005


"Well, overall you're very strong, though we could work on flexibility in a few places. What really seems to be going on is that you're so strong in this place over here that you've never really developed these other things over here, and so comparatively they're weak. That's okay most of the time, but in the long run it will probably cause problems, and so we should work on it. And, yeah, it probably does have to do with that old injury you were telling me about, even though that was on the other side and 18 years ago. This is just the kind of compensatory stress that kind of trauma can cause. So, ah, are you ready to start ... ?"

"Oh, sorry. I was just ... thinking of something else. Right. Let's do it."

þangað, héðan

The plans are laid, the course plotted, but without that slip of paper, printed with digital arcana, I feel like I'm operating without a script. At a loss for words, I flit and twitter.

þriðjudagur, júlí 19, 2005


I tread on eucalyptus leaves and the sharp smell surges up and pierces me. Sometimes this happens. It is nothing new. This time I grind my leather soles into the slippery gray-green blades, little curved sickles, little oxygen hooks, until I get my breath again and walk on.

afsakið hlé

Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are leaning in various attitudes of idleness against the wainscotting. They are waiting. Aramis looks serene. He holds a small book of psalms open in one hand, and he is studying a loose scrap of paper between the pages, doubtless some notes he has made on a theological matter. Athos is cultivating an air of bemused boredom. He may be slightly drunk, or else he may only be faking. Only Porthos makes no attempt to assume an appearance other than that of impatience.

sunnudagur, júlí 17, 2005


I cannot seem to stop myself from singing along with my refrigerator. I catch myself again, chopping something in the kitchen and humming the same tune I seem always to be humming in the kitchen, a mountain tune from Norway, one the seterjenter would have sung in imitation of the willowbark flute. It is only a few notes, though I cannot play it on my own seljefløyte.

Why always that tune? And then I hear it, the motor in the refrigerator. That is the first note, and the last, and several in between. It might be the fundamental, but knowing next to nothing about music, I wouldn't know. But that is what keeps happening; I match that note before I even know I heard it, and then unthinkingly I trill the rest of the tune. Meantime the refrigerator drones under the melody like the resonator strings of the hardanger fiddle, like the long pipes over the shoulder of the piper, half-forgotten as he fingers the chanter.

föstudagur, júlí 15, 2005


Recalled from a dream, a snippet of dialogue:

" ... and I don't mean that to be in any way niðrandi."
I recall also that in the dream, I was addressing someone who does not understand Icelandic. Perhaps he does í draumalandinu.


I do not remember the name of the café, but I remember being at the Place and drinking coffee or perhaps wine and seeing the gold in the pavement outlining where the prison had been. That was several years ago now and in winter. These days I think of that prison more than I usually do, but my mind is on the other side of that history in the company of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis in nightly readings of The Three Musketeers. There, too, a fair amount of wine is consumed.

fimmtudagur, júlí 14, 2005

bækur á flugi

I descend into the library, stepping past the glum young guard, stack card in hand, list of Dewey decimals in pocket, heading for the broad staircase the winds downward about the atrium towards the subterranean shelves. There, at the first landing, I am confronted with Art in the form of maybe sixty books pierced by steel wires and suspended in various attitudes. So pinioned, they resemble birds in flight, tumbling on air currents, only caught mid-tumble and frozen. I walk to the edge and peer downward. The books (open, shut, hanging, held) fill the several-storey shaft, the wires criss-cross in a metal web.

How arresting. I have the same disconcerting feeling I have had upon happening across taxidermy at a zoological park or a natural history museum and thinking what beautiful animals and then oh, they are real, they are dead. I recall hearing a docent at one such museum address just this reaction in her tour group by saying with audible regret that, yes, animals used to be "collected" from the wild for display purposes, but that the museum no longer sponsors such expeditions, and today only animals from zoos and sanctuaries, dead of natural causes, are used.

And I suppose the books have similiarly been culled from captive populations in bibliographic parks, and only after long and productive lives. I suppose none of them represents anything like an endangered species of printed matter. Nonetheless, the installation seems faintly inappropriate, and I leave feeling unsettled.

þriðjudagur, júlí 12, 2005

hátt uppi

Way up under the eaves, under the cornices, by the egg-and-dart and the carved acanthus are occassional hummers. There are no screens here, and I savor the possibility that a jewel-scaled birdlet might (like last month's sparrow) fly into my rooms and light for a moment on some heap of clothes or pile of books. But they do not stay long in the shadow of my architectural details; perhaps they love the sun.


Cloudless sky. Hot already waking to the bells this morning, and still bright and warm when the bells go again at the threshold of evening, just too distant to allow one to make out the melody. Insects still buzz. Arboreal creatures chitter and chatter. The light on the pine needles turns them shining gray, a wintery green-gray that is all out of keeping with the actual temperature of the air.

mánudagur, júlí 11, 2005


Thin, watery dark tonight, like a black wash that sinks into the grooves of earlier brushstrokes but leaves the peaks of color high and bright. The air is pleasantly cool. I'll leave the windows wide open. Maybe in the morning there will still be inky pools of it in the hollows of the bedclothes next to me.

laugardagur, júlí 09, 2005


Low cloud on the dark green hillside. Azure jays laughing gakgakgakgakgak somewhere out in the nearest trees. This morning they sound like magpies to me, and I could be at the edge of Nordmarka, but then a jay alights on a brick cornice, and his black-crested blueness brings me back to this coast, and I smell eucalyptus behind the pines.

fimmtudagur, júlí 07, 2005

domine nos dirige

I'm imagining the ravens of the Tower wheeling and croaking in upset, calling the name of Bran the Blessed.


Coming down, down, out of the high country individual grains of yellow pollen strike the windshield and roll off to one side or another or else blow upward, over the roof of the car. Row upon row of aspens, firs, then miles of farmland. Heat in the valley.

Now in the thicker, coastal air it is dark and cool. Outside, wind moves the trees. Inside, rows of books line rapidly-filling shelves. Tea steams in the cup. A cloth hangs in the window of the door, on the cloth the red dragon of Wales, tongue curling past its teeth, standing guard. But Sleep knows the password, and the dragon will let him by.

laugardagur, júlí 02, 2005


So far no pandas. Not even red pandas. But as consolation, perhaps, there are raccoons in plenty. They seem to live in the wedged-in space behind a wooden fence visible out my window. It is a nest of little ones seen to by a pleasantly round and unhurried-seeming mother raccoon. Today, when she stepped too far off, the little ones set up a shockingly loud alarm of screetchy chittering audible a block away. When she returned, the gap in the fence that is the entrance to the den was suddenly full of a great lashing of tiny ringtails, giving the impression that she was a plump cook racing to the stove, where a neglected pot had begun to boil over.
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