miðvikudagur, ágúst 31, 2005


Out making the rounds under that gleaming schooner of a moon they went from old place to old place, sipping wine and coffee and memory. Once, they were confounded: the bar closed, the door locked, the handle bound with wire, and the wire fixed with a seal. This too was, in its way, appropiate. There was nothing to do but stroll to the stone-paved brink of the pond and gaze up at that other silver seal, stamped with the crest of night. Nor did they howl up at it or whine, only yipped softly a little bit.


I was there again, í fjörunni, picking up rounded pieces of glass and stuffing them deep into my pockets. Green, teal, blue, pink, amber, all frosted and looking too much like gumdrops to set safely in a bowl on the table. Someone might break a tooth.

Instead they are in a straight-sided glass, covered in water and placed in the window where they can catch the light and shine more like they did where I found them, light að sunnan skimming the water and catching them broadside, making them flare like gems against the black pebbles. But this water is fresh. They do not smell of salt here, not any more than everything else does, of sweat, after a too-warm day.

There are other salty waters, it occurs to me. Amber washed up on northern beaches was called, in poetry, Freyja's tears. She had wept for her husband Óðr, who had gone away and never returned. Judging by the rest of the mythology, she got over it, but the world got amber for her heartbreak.

These pseudo-gems are not so precious as amber. They are, in fact, the smooth-polished garbage of a hard-drinking people, the thick bases of bottles scoured into lemon-drop shapes by basalt and waves. But then amber is mere tree sap. There should be some lofty story for these colored stones too, I think, some tragedy or some deed.

sunnudagur, ágúst 28, 2005


Landed in a heap, it feels like, the fjaðrahamur still awry even the next day. At the edges of conversation squawks and caws sneak in between words. Her interlocutor smiles patiently, reaches behind her ear and smooths a couple of feathers down where they are sticking up at crazy angles.

laugardagur, ágúst 27, 2005


The light coming up in the southeast sometime approaching 4:00 AM, hesitant and blue, illuminating the harborward edge of the ripples in the black wakes of each duck and merganser silently a-paddle on the Tjörn. A quarter moon still out, shining like a wet quartz pebble on a black beach, Mars (like red jasper) surprisingly close and bright. Here and there clouds like tufts of wool caught on the wire fence between the pastures of day and night. Here and another place, high, high up, short flickers of green on the move -- loftskeyti from the Great Dark: ég bið að heilsa, ég bið að heilsa.

And then the sun sweeps up and I'm off.

föstudagur, ágúst 26, 2005


Þú ert . . . Ertu?

I have been hearing these phrases as Thou art and Art thou? for a couple of weeks now. That is strange and new. It's not that I've only just recognized the cognates, either -- they were always fairly obvious -- but that they are hitting the ear in a new way, like fragments of early modern speech or of Amish dialogue. Except that they do not sound arch to me. Rather, I am hyperaware of the familiar register, that it is þú not þér, thou not you. That this is now the dominant register since sometime last century does not seem to matter. Þér (like vér) is moribund, good only for humor. Still, the echo of thou art cements þú in my mind as an intimate address. It's Thule familiaris, and we're á dús, we two.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 25, 2005


I saw Bobby Fischer on Hverfisgata the other night.

This was a strange experience. I grew up in a looking for Bobby Fischer world. Not that I personally was looking for him, not being a dedicated chess player. But the world was a certain way, Fischer was out there somewhere as a kind of mysterious guardian spirit of chess, and no one knew just where.

Now it seems we are in a rakst á Bobby Fischer á Hverfisgötu world.

It may help to know that Hverfisgata is the dope and hash street, the place to get stabbed over drugs if you're looking to do that sort of thing in Reykjavík (and in which case it is avisable to make a reservation). Seeing Bobby there, I did not recognize him until he was pointed out to me. He looked like every other slightly seedy fellow on Hverfisgata.

Mind you, the National Theater (booming 1930s architecture, 50% national romanticism and 50% fascistic federalism) is there too, and what used to be the library, now the Culture House (Þjóðmenningarhúsið), as well as a lovely older wood-frame building in which now resides the increasingly international International House (Alþjóðahúsið). There are basalt pillars set into the street between them. I was heading down towards Lækjargata and Bobby was coming up.

Of course, I grew up in a Geysislaus world as well, a world in which Geysir no longer erupted, only his little brother Strokkur. Strokkur I've seen go off many times, but Geysir never. Judging from old prints and travel descriptions, it was very impressive. Then in 2000 the earthquake hit on 17. July, while everyone was outside drinking the health of the nation, and Geysir began erupting again. Not often and not reliably, but still. Astonishing. It was as if an island full of dinosaurs had been discovered. Geysir að gjósa aftur! Better than coelocanths.

I am less thrilled about Mr. Fischer. I think he was maybe a better guardian spirit than anything. We already have sérvitringar on Hverfisgata.

miðvikudagur, ágúst 24, 2005

aldrei týndur

In the cemetary, in the afternoon, I make sure to visit my favorite stone, that of sailors of the Anne af Tofte, a Faroese cutter that went down off Grindavík in the third decade of the last century. Their names are not recorded, the inscription and prayer in Danish, not the local Icelandic and not the Faroese of home. These bold men of the main are memorialized only in the language of the ruling power, and this has always made me wistful. I consider once again these seadogs, only some of whom rest under the stone. The others were lost to the waves.

But today I learn something new, thanks to the new signs I find here and there, offering fróðleikar of various kinds. The stone itself, a great boulder, was brought here from the Faroe Islands. I am pleased to know that.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 23, 2005

en sólin er miklu eldri

Today I received kveðjur from both east and west as well as the image of the day flying over Europe towards me (like the sun) on straight wings (but with tired engine?) like the long-winged gulls in the dark lit from below by the lights in front of the university (otherwise magnificent) or like a plane remembered from a song heard long before I had seen this landscape in the slanting light like that seen this morning (terrific sun), sliding under the lip of the rainclouds (quite nicely) and catching them pulling all manner of strange faces, and since then I have heard that song jangling through and between the other words of the day (I do say nicely), and yet somehow I am not despairing (I do mean that) that no one might ever understand what that feels like (actually).


In the grass, just up on a flatter stretch of a field under a jagged mountain behind which a glacier creaked, I stumbled upon several perfectly white, imperfectly round objects. Eggs! I thought. So large! What bird had lain them and then flown off at my approach? I did not remember seeing one. These eggs were not speckled and tapered like those of cliff-nesting gulls or guillemots. What bird, then? Some do nest on the heaths and fields, after all.

With a forefinger, I reached to touch the chalky surface of one, expecting a cool, hard shell. But the egg proved yielding and leathery. At once my imagined bird grew scaley and basilisk-like, a claw on each wing and a whiplike tail, and I had almost become anxious that the animal would soon return to her clutch when I realized that I had found mushrooms.

mánudagur, ágúst 22, 2005


Firey dragons were seen in the sky over the harbor. A great crowd of people gathered to watch them. They showed no sign of fear until the rain that had begun simultaneously with the appearance of the dragons grew violent, and then they fled, a great stream of people rushing between buildings and crushing against one another other. Some carried children in their arms or on their shoulders. It is not known what became of the dragons or what their appearance might token.

laugardagur, ágúst 20, 2005


It's a good little car, this one. It works just fine, mostly, zips in and out of the city streets and rattles along the pitted country roads without too much complaint. In the countryside, huge jeeps carrying natives flash on by at twice the speed -- clearly the better way to get from point A to point B. But this little car will do it too, more slowly, to be sure, and with some false starts, some stalling, some inelegant shifting of gears (the shaft sticks). The trick is keeping it oiled up and warm, I think. It only balks and chokes badly if it hasn't been driven in a while. Shame to have to keep it in that old barn so much of the time.


The moon last night was bright and enormous, dwarfing the town like a shining, white cruise ship in the harbor, towering over the tollhouse, the supreme court, the national theater, the office of the prime minister in what used to be the jail, except that it had docked over the pond on the other side of town. If it was not full, it was only missing a nail-paring from the upper left, a mere splinter of a Naglfar lacking. Maybe it had come into port for just such minor repairs. It was too great a tonnage to bob on any waves (and the black water still and smooth anyway, star-speckled but calm). We stood on the quayside and gaped like children at a many-masted tall ship, would have waved little silver pennants if we'd had them.

föstudagur, ágúst 19, 2005


It is krækiber season. Little black, seedy berries hide under the tiny leaves of this ground-hugging plant, and if you are one of those who associates the taste of them with summer, you will find yourself picking them and popping them into your mouth, even though if asked, as I once was by a visitor, if they were good, you might not know how you would answer. You don't eat krækiber because they are good, but because they are krækiber, and because you can.

You might answer that the birds like them quite a lot. Some winged species seems to eat them, perhaps to the exclusion of all else, when possible. I have never seen it happen, but it must be so, for in summer every jutting stone in Iceland has an inky blue-black streak down one side or the other, just behind whatever ridge best presents itself as a perch. It is the veggjakrot of the avian race, graffiti illegible to us, yet unstudied by runologists and readers of hieroglyphs. If you yourself ate krækiber in sufficient quantities, you too could perhaps produce an ink of such enviable glossy hue, but even that would not endow you with the ability to read the writing of birds. Not even Sigurður Fáfnisbani could do that.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 18, 2005


Having made the rounds, here are four words from the four quarters:

From the north: ógilslegt
I confess to having coined this myself, upon having a certain gil or gully pointed out to me. It was indeed very unlike a gil for having been smoothed out and leveled in several distinct sections, an ógilslegt gil.

From the east: lágfota
"Short-legs," a very pleasing name for the vixen and a fitting one, if you have ever seen her glide over the ground.

From the south: draugasteinn
"Ghost-stone," the nativist word for chalcedony. I learned it in the East, but it was further south that I saw long veins of it shot through the basalt and scraped smooth by the course of the Svínafell glacier.

From the west (sem er í raun fyrir sunnan): grátberi
"Tears-bearer," one who brings tears, or brings them on. Compare vatnsberi (water-bearer), the designation for Aquarius, or tilberi (to-bearer), the milk-hare witches used to steal milk from other women's cows. I do not think it can be used poetically, of rain.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 16, 2005


All across the South, the waterfalls are falling upward because of the wind. It sounds like a line in a prophecy. Doubtless, there is something in particular that is supposed to happen when all the waterfalls in Suðurlandið flow upward, but whatever it is, I'm sure that it has happened so many times here already that no one takes notice of it any more. It's that kind of place.

Both falls at Núpsstaður were flying up into the clouds. On the other hand, the enormous rock that stands nearby on the cliffs has still not fallen and crushed the farm, as another prophecy says it must someday do, and so all things considered it is probably right and proper that everyone continue to go about his business as usual and not worry about the erratic behavior of waterfalls. The horses are completely unconcerned. They have all turned their blunt hind ends into the wind; all across Suðurland they stand facing westward with their forelocks flying over their heads.

mánudagur, ágúst 15, 2005

vegna veðurs

Plenty rain and fog coming around the point and into the fjord, and I am thinking that it is really far better to visit these parts in wet weather. After all, one can purchase postcards of postcard-perfect views of green mountainsides and heiðskýrt heavens in every little place one stops for gas, coffee, and chemical-tasting candy. One never sees pictures of the landscape in rain, only sunshine, and that is rather like looking at pictures of professionally made-up people who all claim in the attached self-descriptions to be "upbeat," "have a good sense of humor," and "like having fun."

To see landscape any other way, to see it when it isn't being hresst og skemmtilegt, one has to be there. And isn't that the question, anyway, what it is like when the weather is not so fair? What it looks like after a restless night? Where do the clouds form? Where does the road get slick and dangerous? Does the ground fog pile up into unexpected and beautiful shapes? Where? Does the fading light slice though it all, striking a peak, a high snowfield, a falling beck, blinding you, making you suck in your breath?

sunnudagur, ágúst 14, 2005


She goes all the way out to this northern-facing fjord to pay her respects. She walks through the grass to the jutting hill that dominates this settlement and starts around it, sunwise. She makes two circuits, with downcast eyes and a humble expression, stepping carefully all the while. She sees wild thyme growing near the path. She reaches to brush the tips of her fingers against its red leaves, but she does not pluck it, and she does not stray from the path. Then she sees a while feather crushed into the stoney ground. This she picks up, smooths with her fingers, and stands upright, quill downward, near where it had lain. She continues, now coming around the last third of the second circuit.

A black horse in a nearby paddock whinnies, and she looks up expectantly. Somewhere else nearby, a dog cries. It is a painful sound. Her heart thumps a little faster, and her throat tightens. Walking away now, with eyes downcast once again, she sees before her a round stone, green as the sea, a little smaller than her fist. She smiles, relieved, and picks it up. It feels good in her hand, almost warm.

Driving out, she passes an old man on a bicycle, heading for one of the outer farms. A black dog is bounding through the grass to meet him.

taktu bensín

I've got that light feeling of possibility that comes with a full tank and a rental vehicle. The romance with this sensation may be classically American, the lure of the open road - ! This I feel despite being on an island. It's the fuel that drives the road movie, that classically American genre born of wide-open spaces and cheap gas. But of course, that genre exists here too. The road movie I'm in must be somewhere between Á köldum klaka and Börn náttúrunnar. I do hope it's on the map.

föstudagur, ágúst 12, 2005

á austurvelli

The dark is returning here. Not the capital-d Dark but the lowercase-d dark that comes again in August, a reminder that September and the equinox is not far away, and then after that the winter and the thicker, colder, weightier Dark that will last until March, when the sky is pierced by slanting light that strikes the mind like the unwelcome tone of an alarm clock. But at the moment, long evenings ease into coolness and extended twilight.

In this dimness last night at eleven I find myself in the square downtown, leaning against the pediment of a statue and talking about whether there have always been odd folk and sérvitringar in this town and why. Behind my interlocutor, on the grass lit obliquely by lights on the footpaths, a bushy-haired man strolls aimlessly, stepping now forward, now right, now back, and it is several minutes before I realize that he is out to air his rabbit.

The rabbit is a dainty black creature (or appears so in the low light - perhaps it was brown, and perhaps there is a whole vocabulary of rabbit color-terms in this language that I have never learned), ears erect, hopping and sniffing on the cool green turf, allowing himself to be herded, gently, by where his master sets each of his feet, now before him, now to one side.

A late summer night is perhaps the only time one can safely air one's rabbit (black, inquisitive) in the town square, let him lollop to and fro without attracting the unwanted attention of passers -by. One's rabbit might be quite a private thing. Still, I imagine it is very good for the rabbit, who must be an apartment dweller without easy access to clean-smelling growing things. It would probably good for everyone to get out now and then of a still, dim evening, and let each of our small, black animals stretch its legs and sniff the air.

swan lake

I saw no ensorcelled maidens, neither in ballet slippers nor in ring-byrnies. But in the shallow water swam fish, wise and well-fed and thus not for the catching. Still, I wondered if one might not, upon eating one, gain the gift of poetry, skáldmælska.

No, wait, wait ... that is another lake. But it is beautiful here, under a mossy mountain like a giant's door jamb, a gatepost before the path to the plains.

miðvikudagur, ágúst 10, 2005

velut luna

Some things are different. Fjalakötturinn is back, a high-timbered red house on Aðalstræti, giving me a turn like an architectural ghost, listahönnunardraugur.

Some things are exactly the same, but I had somehow managed to forget all about them. The screens of my bank's cash machines, for example, still flash up a super low-tech graphic of an abacus while counting out the bills. This is such genius (how could a high-tech graphic of an abacus ever be appropriate, I ask?) that I cannot think how it ever slipped my mind.

Some things are always changing but always in the same way. The half-grown gulls bobbing on the water, floating on the weed between the stout basalt pillars, no longer chicks but not yet fully come into the tailored white and black plumage of adulthood, are one of those things.


kríur (bara fáar)
endur (ýmis konar)
mávar og mávar og aftur mávar

I have not seen the lóa, but that is not her fault. And I have seen starlings, but I heard them before I saw them, and at first they sounded like squirrels.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 09, 2005


The air is cold enough to feel like water, like splashing into a lake you've swum in before, but that surprises again and again -- how did you ever swim in this chill? You know you have, but it seems unlikely. Striking forward into the clear, diamond-like stuff, into the grammar of it, all the muscles seem sluggish and the tongue stiff. You roll and yaw and float, but off balance. Then the mind extends a membranous, stiff, finny wing that has been folded up since January (feeling it unfold, you have to rethink your whole idea of your own symmetry), and it catches the katabatic wind and speeds you forward, faster, faster.

mánudagur, ágúst 08, 2005


Sulfur rising off the water is not an olfactory hallucination, though it is, to be sure, hallucinatory in the metaphoric sense. But it is only an artifact of the metaphor, of bearing onself from once place to another. It is transitional, and in a few days you won't smell it at all, but the water will be just as hot.

sunnudagur, ágúst 07, 2005


To every season, osv. osv.

laugardagur, ágúst 06, 2005


So, do you take the 200-page journal with only 40 pages left in it, in the hope of finally finishing it on this trip, or the new, whippy, luxuriously leather-covered moleskine with the snappy elastic and the creamy paper, in the hope of starting a new chapter, a new volume, even? This is still unclear. But you will bring the swim goggles along.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 04, 2005


She is just trying to get that roll of film developed. The clerk is not helping. Doubles? Glossy or matte? White borders? How can she possibly decide such things when she really has no idea what is on the film? That's why she's trying to have it developed. That, and because there might be something useful on that roll, since she's going back, something parleyable. She snapped all those pictures furtively on the way up, in haste, shielding the camera from the view of her escorts and their two-headed dogs. Will there be anything on the film at all? Who knows.

She settles on something just to be done with it, gives the clerk her cell number, and jams the slip of paper he hands her into her front pocket, next to the film cannister, now empty of film. The pips of the pomegranate rattle in the black plastic as she walks out into the sunlight.


Last evening, on a neighboring driveway, back turned to the admittedly paltry hurly-burly of the street, a small cat so round-haunched and speckled (gray and ginger) that she resembled a bird's egg.

This evening, inside, gathered like grizzlies at the falls, we slapped anecdotes out of the flowing wine like king salmon, roaring like lions at our own wit.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 02, 2005

lost & found

On the street, nay, worse! atop the rubbish bins I see a stray book. Aside from having being abandoned, it does not seem to have been ill-treated in whatever home it had been in last. It is fat and sleek, not very old, either, though not very young. It is a dictionary. I ruffle its pages. It purrs contentedly under my fingers. It seems really in very good condition (who would have orphaned it here? what heartless owner? someone moving away, no doubt, someone who didn't feel he had room for it in the new place), and it is fairly clean for something found nosing about near the bins. There are no marks on it, just two paper tags, one next to the definition of thesis and the other on the page including feral, feracious, ferine, ferly (noh! ferlig?), Fergus, Fenian, and Fenris.

I snap it shut and heft it again (it is hefty), pretending to weigh my options, but I'm fooling myself.

Swinging it up onto my shoulder, I set off again homeward, already picturing how I will rub it down with a damp rag and how well it will get on with my other books.

mánudagur, ágúst 01, 2005


On the first of August, the feast of bread, one would, ideally, be in Lyon or some other town of Lugh's, eating baguettes with sweet butter and golden honey and rereading the deeds of the spear-wielding, omnicompetant hero at the battles of Magh Tuireadh. But my own Balor of the Baleful Eye is the clockface, and I have things to do.


After sundown, a seasonal, light repast, full of the gold light of the preceding day. There was:
the juice of an orange
a little shoyu
very long green beans indeed
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