sunnudagur, desember 31, 2006


While he goes rocketing off, soaring out on a trajectory even longer than that of Jón Ólafsson Indíafari, she is here, sleeping, dreaming herself to some never-was Hvalfjörður.

The shopfronts are painted warm colors. Food-smells (pot pies? some good, warm thing like that) spill out onto the narrow sidewalk. The monuments in the cemetary are fascinating: elongated figures stretch face-downward on the grass as if beating the earth in grief. There is a sort of little museum, a visitors' center. She considers buying a postcard. She feels guilty at having been waylaid by all these unexpected things. She had wanted to go up the fjord to the old whaling station, but she is on foot, and it is so far.

föstudagur, desember 29, 2006

nefna nafni

I dreamt that it wasn't the correct pronunciation after all.

þriðjudagur, desember 26, 2006


She was still alive, though I can't imagine why she was in this dream.

Those others were still married, and everyone but me was afraid of the great chestnut-colored hound pacing the second floor, not as dark and terrible as a slavering Murder from Dunsany's "Ghosts" but terrible all the same. But he was gentle towards me even when he had hands and we lay next to each other. When he stood and walked away, throwing a conspiratorial look over his shoulder, the other man watched him enviously because he was so handsome.

mánudagur, desember 25, 2006


Frá Hinríki Vaðsvirði vorum
verse of a seasonal kind;
Strauminn hans stóð ég við áðan,
his stead have I just now fared by.
"Í Bótólfsbæ bestur af skáldum!"
bygone are such days of fame,
Í anda hans ort er nú sjaldan:
ever the fashions do change.

From King Olaf's Christmas:

At Drontheim, Olaf the King
Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring,
As he sat in his banquet-hall,
Drinking his nut-brown ale,
With his bearded Berserks hale
And tall.

Three days his Yule-tide feasts
He held with Bishops and Priests,
And his horn filled up to the brim;
But the ale was never too strong,
Nor the Saga-man's tale too long,
For him.


She cannot find her cellphone, and she is forced to call herself from the house phone. When she hears the ring, it comes from under the bedclothes.

laugardagur, desember 23, 2006

yfir öxlina

The car is more or less where you remember parking it. You open the trunk and put your paltry luggage inside. The engine comes unhesitatingly to life at the turn of the key, and before pulling out you flip on the wipers to sweep the increasingly heavy rain from the windshield. You switch on the stereo. The voice of Ella Fitzgerald fills the car. The CD preserves the scratchiness of the original vinyl recording.

The rain is heavier than you had thought. You turn the speed of the wipers up two notches. When you were younger you used to wonder at how the motion of the wipers back and forth across the driver's field of vision could possibly distract less than the splash of the rain against the glass. And yet they do.

You pull out onto the highway. Changing lanes, you look backwards over your shoulder. There are no wipers on the back glass, of course. It is difficult to see out. But the stream of air over the moving car pushes the water into lovely curves you have never seen before.

fimmtudagur, desember 14, 2006


All my memories of the night sky in winter center on the Great Bear. Orion is there too, and I always looked from the Hunter to the Bull and gauge the clarity of the air by counting the Seven Sisters riding on his back.

miðvikudagur, desember 13, 2006


Veiztu hvé ráða skal?


Do you know how to read, how to interpret? Included might be the idea of interpreting without overinterpreting, reading without drifting into oflestur, 'overreading.'

(And all this aside from the possibility of reading ráða as 'to advise,' compare OE rede as in Æþelrad unrede, the ill-advised rather than the unready. His advisors did not know hvé ráða skulu and left him at the mercy of the Danes.)

But Icelandic overreading is not ofráð. Ofráð had meant 'to great a task,' with the sense of ráð as 'plan,' I suppose because a plan is something advisable. These days I expect ofráð is one of those words that prompt Icelanders to reach for the dictionary for guidance (ráð?) on how to interpret the text.

No, overreading is oflestur from lesa, 'to read.' I cannot remember the etymology of lesa, but I seem to recall that it came in with letters on vellum, latin learning. Ráða is very old and has had to do with runes and perhaps with rubbing red pigment into the lines. Perhaps attaching of- to ráða in the reading sense would have resulting in rubbing the carven signs into illegibility? And damaged runes are a notoriously powerful inspiration to oflestur and, indeed, mislestur.


Oflestur is a fine word. It reminds me of a fine English word, the wonderful adverb lest. Uniquely, I believe, lest still demands the subjunctive. Thus:
She wrote with care lest she be misinterpreted.
Or the only slightly less archaic
She worried lest someone should read too much into her words.
I always prefer the former construction to the latter; in this way I cultivate my grammatical atavism. I will ever rush to the defense of the embattled English subjunctive. You may know others like me. We know we are engaged in a hopeless battle. We enjoy the exercise, even though some of us accept that language changes, that change is not bad, and that reversing the direction of that change is a task too great even for the most dedicated grammatical Tories.


There is no connection between Icel. oflestur and Eng. lest unless you make one yourself.

sunnudagur, desember 10, 2006


Chilly day, though not as cold as it has been. The light is yellowish this morning. She finds a pack of cards, much worn. The box (bearing a Union Jack) is still marked 1 pound 7. They had been purchased some 25 years ago on an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic, headed east.

She deals them out and flips them over, only to find that she has forgotten how to play solitaire.

laugardagur, desember 09, 2006


Snow. The new white in the air is always a surprise, every winter. Whiteness flying in the air.

Lines from a ballad come to me:
Jag ser, jag ser
på dina hvita fingrar små
att vigselsringen ej har suttit på dem förrän i går

Jag ser, jag ser
på dina snöhvita bröst
att de ej have været någon småbarnatröst

The hv appears without my willing it, and it tumbles out of my mouth as kv. I feel the harder, sharper sound is whiter. (I cannot justify the rest of the mangling, the translation into some concocted dialect.)

White as a keen edge. White as blankness: the untrodden, unsullied; unmarked and so unread, unwed. But Baronessen wrote about this much better than I could hope to:

But in the midst of the long row there hangs a canvas which differs from the others. The frame of it is as fine and as heavy as any, and as proudly as any carries the golden plate with the royal crown. But on this one plate no name is inscribed, and the linen within the frame is snow-white from corner to comer, a blank page.

miðvikudagur, desember 06, 2006

eitt helzta nætrríkja

'One of the chiefe kingdomes of the night,' a land where lakes may turn men to marble. Have I been there? All of a sudden I am not certain. It may be that this land is only found in winter. Perhaps in summer it sinks. The waves close over it for the season, and fishermen at far-out miði may haul up fragments of sculpture in their nets, clots of nighttime on their hooks.

The terrors of the night (1594) Thomas Nashe

mánudagur, desember 04, 2006


Skating along in Lord Dunsany I trip over the word frore and enjoy a little shiver of excitement. I had been unaware of this cognate to Icelandic frör, frost, itself rather archaic.

I imagine these words as old friends now in their declining years. I can see them meeting at some wayside inn for a drink in good company. They are sitting at a wooden table by the wall and recalling the days of their distant youth, ice on the windowpane, snow falling outside.

laugardagur, desember 02, 2006


Were you travelling also? You were in a dream again. We were at an airport. I had forgotten something.


Dastu í draumana,
fræðagarpur gamli.
Var ljúft að sjá þig;
Sit ég nú og rifja upp
minningar mínar:

Vakandi vorum við
vinir að spjalla
Hart haust úti
Lengi fram á nótt
nutum tals
Kaldur klaki úti

Alltaf bjóstu mér
botnlausa gestrisni
viskí og viskuna
Gafstu mér, gestinum,
gjafir bestar
vín þitt og vináttu

Sólin sekkur og
saknað er þín
Vaknar vetur
Máninn merlar,
man ég allt:
hlógum við og hátt.

Lykur kvæði mínu
með kveðjum öllum góðum
Nú hef ég hestaskál -
En viltu segja mér sögu
einu sinni enn,
kæri karlinn minn,
kæri karlinn minn.

laugardagur, nóvember 25, 2006


Not braids: lichens. There are, apparently, about 710 varieties of lichen found in Iceland. They have very beautiful names. Here are some:

Alkrókar Álfabikar Álkumerla Bakkafleða Barkardoppa Barmbrydda Barmþekja Bikarkrókar Bikdumba Birkiskán Birkiskegg Birkiskóf Birkitarga Bjargstrý Bládrigla Blámara Bleðlanafli Blekþemba Blikudumba Blýtarga Brekabroddar Broddskilma Brúnkríma Brúnlurfa Brúnrengla Brúnsnurða Búldubreyskja Deiglugrotta Digurkrókar Dílaskóf Dílbreyskja Drýsilbreyskja Dvergkarta Dvergskilma Elgshyrna Engjaskóf Felumara Firnamara Fjallabikar Fjallagrös Fjallahnúta Fjallanafli Fjallaskóf Fjörukregða Fjörustúfa Fjörusverta Flagamóra Flagbreyskja Flannaskóf Flatþemba Flekkugláma Flókakræða Flúðaskorpa Fuglaglæða Fuglagráma Fölvakarta Gamburskilma Gálgaskegg Geitanafli Giljaskóf Gipsglompa Gígnæfra Glitrumara Gljúfraglypja Glóðargrýta Grábleðla Grábreyskja Grábrydda Grákarta Grákrókar Grákúpa Grjónabikar Grjótflíra Grænsverta Græntarga Gulkrókar Gullinvarp Gullmerla Gulstika Hellisglæða Herpitarga Hettuduðra Holtahverfa Hosuskóf Hosuslembra Hraufuskóf Hraunbreyskja Hraunglompa Hreindýrakrókar Hreisturbroddar Hreisturbrydda Hreisturslembra Hrímnafli Hrossanafli Hvítmæra Hæðakirna Jötunflikra Jötunskegg Klappagráma Klappaskilma Klappaslembra Klettadumba Klettaglæða Klettakræða Klettakrækla Klettaskóf Klettastrý Klórengla Korkríla Kóralskán Krónudofra Kryddmerla Krypplugrös Kvistagrös Körtustubbar Lambaskóf Landfræðiflikra Lappamerla Laufduðra Lautabikar Litunarskóf Ljósarða Ljósaskegg Loðbreyskja Loðhverfa Loðtjása Lundatarga Maríugrös Melakræða Melbreyskja Mjólkurskilma Moldarskjóma Mosafleða Mosafrikja Mosagroppa Mosanóra Mosarætla Móakrækla Móaþemba Móbrydda Mókrókar Mundagrös Mývatnsgrös Netjubikar Næfurskóf Ormagrös Perluvoð Pípuþemba Púðabreyskja Randþekja Reyniglæða Roðaslitra Ryðkarta Sáldnafli Seltulauf Setríla Seyrumerla Sinuskán Skarfamerla Skarlatbikar Skeggnafli Skeljaskóf Skollakræða Skorulauf Skútagrýta Sliturglæta Snepaskán Snepaskóf Snæbikar Snækarta Snæþemba Sótakarta Spaðabreyskja Sprekbroddar Spörvatarga Steinmerla Strandgráma Strandkrókar Strandmóra Stúfbikar Surtarkræða Svampgrýta Svarðpíra Svarðsnurða Syllubúlga Sylluslitra Sæmerla Takkafleða Tindanafli Toppaglæta Torfmæra Torfuhnýfla Tröllaskegg Törgudoppa Ullarskóf Vaxklúka Vaxtarga Veggjaglæða Vikurbreyskja Voðarskóf Vætutarga Vætulýja Völukúpa Vörðuflaga Þalmerla Þarmakorpa Þéluskóf Þúfubikar Þúfumerla Þyrpidoppa Æðaskóf

Also lovely is the Icelandic term for a symbiotic organism: sambýlisvera. It is a perfectly logical word for a living thing made up of two organisms living in a relationship of mutual benefit. But while the Greek-derived English word rings only of science, the Icelandic one is domestic, almost affectionate. Sambýli is cohabitation. As a bureaucratic term, it means domestic partnership. You can (indeed, I believe you are required to) register your sambýli with the authorities. That of itself does not sound very cosy, but remember that it assumes you have a sambýlismaður or a sambýliskona, a man or woman who has chosen to live with you in, ideally, a relationship of mutual benefit.

Consider these 710 kinds of lichen living in domestic harmony on the stones and mosses of Iceland, enduring cold and wet. Maybe the homonym fléttar - braids - is appropriate after all. Each one of them is two things wound around each other.

föstudagur, nóvember 24, 2006


Frost on the windshield two nights running. Not frostrósir, frost-roses, just frost. At most frostmosi, a tiny layer of white moss. Or some species of frost-lichen? Frostfléttur -- I like the shape of the word.

Lichen is not a plant, not even a single organism. It is a symbiosis between fungus and algæ or bacteria. The fungus alone cannot photosynthesize, while its symbiont can. Maybe in frostfléttar that part is played not by a photobiont but by something that synthesizes glucose from the cold itself. Imagine tiny cells with leukophyll and leukoplasts carrying out not Light Reactions and Dark Reactions but Cold Reactions.

It is a shame to have to scrape it away. It would wither away regardless as the glass warmed up. But it will grow back during the night.

sunnudagur, nóvember 19, 2006

svartar greinar

You always liked the finches. I always liked the corvids.

Today there were cardinals and blue jays in the tree next door. The cardinals looked like animate greeting card motifs, cheery red birds eating cheery red berries. It made me sad that cliché was the word that ran through my mind.

You never cared about such things. You liked the red birds and the red berries on the black branches, and it was never a cliché for you any more than it was for the birds.

mánudagur, nóvember 13, 2006


Modest little birds at the feeder in the next yard. They hop and flutter. Cardinals and sparrows. Finches. House finches. I haven't seen house finches in November in many years now. Their fluttering reminds me of the ruffling pages of a dictionary held in one hand; their little hestitant hops remind me of how I would skip from word to word:
O.E. finc
PGmc. *finkiz, *finkjon
cf. Du. vink, O.H.G. finco, Ger. Fink, Icel. finkur
cf. Breton pint "chaffinch," Rus. penka "wren"
Fine little birds, finches. When they spring along the top of the fence my November heart feels the weight and scratch of their tiny black feet.

sunnudagur, nóvember 12, 2006


An evening spent arranging objects in the kitchen:

A clove of garlic in a low, white, salt-fired bowl
A long-handled wrought-iron spoon
A silverplate sugarbowl (not a wedding gift but a bridesmaid's gift)
A blue-glazed bowl with Japanese proportions cradling three Bosch pears (not quite ripe)
A set of silver and cobalt glass salt and pepper shakers
A hand-thrown mug stamped with the leonine face of the Durham Cathedral doorknocker

It is pleasing to have them all in their proper places, to have assigned them proper places. Their harmony is so much more comforting than the forks and knives in the drawer, like set with like with regimented regularity.

No shred of disrespect meant to the forks and knives. There would be no kitchen without them. Only with them arrayed in their places, invisible below the counter but at the ready, can the frivolous but still necessary objects of beauty find their own places on the table, the top of the stove, the sunlit windowsills.

föstudagur, nóvember 10, 2006


Were you a pilgrim or an eater of doves? You were sitting unconcernedly on the copper roof across the way, five floors up. Dark back, dark head with the barest light ring almost all the way around. More a torc than a necklace. Wind ruffled the feathers of your breast - light-colored. Were you a peregrin? You might have been. You seemed too big to be a merlin, but your tail was long and barred, and the feathers on your legs were white, white. You were looking off to the southeast. No other birds dared anywhere near you.

I will think of you as a merlin, a dove-eater.

mánudagur, nóvember 06, 2006

ó minn kæri

Bara nóvember og mig dreymir vetur, mjöll, drífu, hafís, og svartar nætur. Heitt vatn, brennistein. Hláturinn í gömlum vin.

Mér finnur lykt af hávetrinum líka, og hann er klementínalykt.

fimmtudagur, nóvember 02, 2006


Evening. Even-ing. The day and night are evening out, the equal halves (not in length but in weight, I've liked to say) meeting and bleeding into each other over the line crassly called the terminator. They join hands and shake, seal some agreement the details of which are unknown to us.

Farið að rökkva, growing towards evening, towards twilight, like hausta, to get on towards autumn. In English it is two-light, and not just the usual two word but a twin-ness word, a two where the pair is the whole set. Tvennt. Twain. In Icelandic rökkur, the twilight of the twilight of the gods (see also Snorri, see Wagner). Strangely, no two-ness here, just encroaching darkness.

miðvikudagur, nóvember 01, 2006


Below my window a ginko glows acid autumn yellow. Its little fans glare against the gray. Such an ancient tree---not this one in particular but the species as a whole.

I sit here pondering the thirteenth century considering the ninth and tenth century, all recent past in comparison. Rowan is Þór's salvation, it says here. What long-forgotten god or power walked the earth when the ginko was young? Whose hand grabbed at its trunk to save himself being swept away?

(Was he swept away regardless. Is that why we do know know his name or even his story?)


She's been between. She thinks she's back now. She might be, at least. Aren't journeys always between? This one was.

There was an extra hour between two others. She was grateful for it during and after.

Now the days are between. They begin in the dark and they end in the dark. In the middle the glow of the screen, the scratch of the pen, the brush of paper.

þriðjudagur, október 24, 2006


I can hear the neighbors' dog going up and down the stairs just on the other side of this wall. I hear him jouncing down and scrambling up again. I cannot see him, but I hear him clearly. The wall is shared between the two apartments. It is a duplex. The two sides are in all regards the same as to layout, only reversed. The neighbor's apartment is a mirror image of mine. It's a very fertile image.

When the Tuatha De Danaan and the sons of Mil fought over Ireland, neither side got the upper hand. They called a truce and reached a settlement. Ireland would be divided, and each people would get half. The sons of Mil would have the half above the earth's surface, and the Tuatha De Danaan would have the half below. Later, they became known as the Fair Folk. Occassionally a human would be invited or stumble into their realm, often as not though a door in a hill, and always their side of Ireland would seem very like the world of men, except different. An Otherworld.

I listen to the dog ascending and decending and I think about the ingenious truce reached in Ireland thousands of years ago, in the age of heroes and magic. Is it really the neighbors' dog I hear, or it is my own dream of a dog, the ghost of a dog, always on the other side of the wall separating the world as it is from the world as it almost is?

mánudagur, október 23, 2006

til allra átta

She does not sleep well in an entirely dark room. Or maybe it is only falling asleep that she finds difficult. It isn't terror of the dark, of what might be unseen in that blackness. She thinks it might be the disorientation that disturbs her. Drifting into sleep, her body becoming lighter, she might lose all sense of direction. She finds it unnerving. With even faint light from the window, the glow of distant sodium lights reflected back from the cloud layer, she can always deduce the location of everything in the room: floor, walls, the bed itself.

She was once pulled beneath the surf by the undertow. In the swirl of water and sand, she couldn't tell which way was up, and she needed to know which way to swim to break the surface before her breath ran out. Clever the way her mother was always clever, she let a single bubble of air escape her lips. It wobbled sidways. She turned and followed it.

If only she could do the same in the dark, open her mouth and allow a tiny, trembling sphere of light slip out and rise towards the ceiling.

sunnudagur, október 22, 2006


A big red wine from Chile with a grilled Gouda sandwich in a city where the old tannery looms against the skyline, tignarlega, like a federal building, a palace. Greek columns - a sacred stone grove into which the sacrificial animals were once led.

miðvikudagur, október 18, 2006

ormar og úlfar

The Germans talk about insistent songs as ear worms, and now we do too. It's a good enough image. One can imagine the tune boring itself though the ear canal and in towards the brain. Once there, it twists and coils and makes us twitch to the rhythm of its movements.

Maybe that is wrong. Maybe is it a worm, a serpent, biting its own tail like a tape loop.

I have a tune in my head today, but it is not a worm. It goes like a running dog, a wolf. Its feet hit the ground one after another, but it never gets anywhere. Hati, Garmr, other wolves chasing the heavenly bodies along their tracks (the sun and the moon each in their chariot), never catching them, not until Doomsday.

If I humor myself in my fornfræðamóðr, this makes my stuck melody the music of the spheres.

mánudagur, október 16, 2006

på avstand

Somehow, thousands of miles away, she is hearing the organ in the church at Skien. She understands it to be the largest in Norway. Still, it is not reasonable to be hearing it at all this distance. Even on the radio.

laugardagur, október 14, 2006


No scotch, unfortunately. She is driving home. She stops for gas, petrol, bensín, whatever it is called. Briefly, she thinks of storm petrels, which are not gulls but related to the albatross, and the ouroboros. Headlights on other cars flash by. She turns the wheel when she ought to, crosses the bridge with its illuminated cables.

Still, when she pulls up in front of the house, she is surprised. She had expected to be somewhere else when she got home.

fimmtudagur, október 12, 2006


These words today:

dross - n. slag or scoria, the impurities forced out of metals during melting; from noble Anglo-Saxon words for dregs and for falling. For some reason I always want to confuse it with treacle, which makes no sense at all. Though AS dreosan, fall, must share ancestry with Danish drysse, sprinkle, which I always see in the context of sugar. Maybe that is it. It has nothing whatever to do with Greek drosos, dew or liquid, from which we get the dew-loving fruit fly, drosophilia.

tor - n. a high, rocky hill; from the Anglo-Saxon torr, a tower or rock. Almost surprisingly, it has nothing to do with Þórr (could not -- we cannot get an English t in the place of an Icelandic þ). Þórr has his hammer, hamarr, which is also a towering rocky ridge. Would it be too much to have expected Þórr's name to give us a mountain-word? Will have to content ourselves with Storm King, that eminence towering over the Hudson.

full - v. to clean and shrink esp. with moisture, used of cloth; from Middle English, from Old French, from a hypothetical late Latin root. A pleasantly surprising word for not being any part of to fill, even though it could also draw a cloth of a sack taut.

laugardagur, október 07, 2006


The arrangement of her keys on the keychain replicates the shape of the cosmos.

Let me explain; it may not be obvious to all how this could be so.

The keys are arranged as to correspond with concentric rings of familiarity. The innermost key opens the front door of her house. This is of course the center, the most familiar and hospitable (if a person's own house can be hospitable to the person in question) region. We could, if we were inclined to make such comparisons, think of it at Ásgarðr.

The next key, working outward, opens the door to her office. This is a less private place, though intended to be for her use alone. The ræstingarkonur do come through in the evenings to empty the trash, and she does not entirely command the room's contents. Let us think of it as Miðgarðr.

The third key opens certain shared or common areas in the workplace: the copy room, the lounge, the office. It may be unkind to think of these regions as Jötunheimr, but structurally that is what they are: an outermore because less familiar ring about the two inner ones.

Útgarðr is next, of course. The door to Útgarðr is opened by the next key, the one that opens the building within which both these common areas and her own office are located.

(It could be mentioned that there is another key, not on the keychain at all, and thus representing a yet outermore ring. It opens the door of an apartment on, appropriately, the thirteenth floor of a building nowhere near here. This place corresponds to the outer sea, far out in the sea about the world, past where whales live, where even jötnar do not willingly venture. Jörmundgandr is out there.)

There is another key on another keychain, though that keychain is looped through the first one. It is the ignition key to her car. It provides access to regions not on the horizontal plane at all but instead on the vertical axis piercing the center, Ásgarðr. Hazardous journeys to Svartálfheimr, Múspelheimr, and elsewhere are begun by turning this key.


Let me tell you, let me tell you. There are red maple leaves everywhere on the still-green grass. The oak leaves are brown and rustling. Geese are flying in the dark above, calling to each other or else simply calling out to the world: South, south, south, south.

þriðjudagur, október 03, 2006


I was sleeping, I was sleeping. I heard your voice. You said my name, as if you were right by, to wake me. (Not calling, not knocking, not walking up to my bedroom door, just pronouncing, softly, in a sing-song voice, my name.) I awoke, I awoke.


I had forgotten, I had forgotten: a handful of days ago a butterfly went by me, and I recognized it. It was a Queen. Not a viceroy and not a Monarch, but a Queen. She was smaller than a Monarch but more regal than the Viceroy. Her slender black body was dotted with white as if she wore a close-tailored dress of inverse ermine. Mere Viceroys are not so attired; Monarchs are. There are sumtuary laws among the Papilionoidea; only those of royal blood may wear this fur.

Only a few months ago I would not have known her.

sunnudagur, október 01, 2006

fuglatal ii

Tiny doves
High in the night sky: geese

No gulls (no surprise), no crow and jays (where are they?). The sparrows are sweet and flock prettily on fences and gables. The doves are mourning doves. They are smaller than I remembered, nothing like the fat squabs I'd become accustomed to. I remember not knowing about the u in their name. I had thought they were called morning doves, and I was irritated that I could not explain why.

laugardagur, september 30, 2006

að hausta

Tekið að hausta. It's beginning to be autumn. Or, if you like, fall. Haust can be a verb in Icelandic---hausta---to be getting into fall. Falling, maybe.

It is a harvest word. I seem to remember that the root has to do with gathering-in, but I should check up on that. It is a gathering, of course, of whatever fruits of the summer will stand salting or drying or lagering in cellars, whichever of them can sustain us through the coming cold months.

(Here it is a harvest of yellow and brown leaves, a few frantic moths caught between the screens and the storm windows, and a leak in the kitchen ceiling. I doubt these will be of much use.)

I rather like the idea of it being, also, falling, though it is not the cheeriest thought.

fimmtudagur, september 28, 2006


Make your bed. Lie in it. Wonder, staring at the ceiling, if the sharp corners at the foot that you neglected to have rounded off have any symbolic significance. Reconcile yourself to barking your shins on them in the middle of the night, starting the day already bruised.

miðvikudagur, september 27, 2006


Every night now she unplaits her hair before sleep. It rests on the pillows behind and above her head. Quite possibly, it gleams in the dark. The strands curl around her dreams.

One night in sleep she descends into the sea and into the house of the Mother of Sea-Beasts, She is not a sea-beast herself, but she wants to give her honor, and so she says, Greetings, Mother. The Mother of Sea-Beasts receives that honor courteously and says, Greetings, daughter.

She sees that hair of the Mother of Sea-Beasts lies on her breasts in two thick plaits woven with ornaments of ivory and bone. You hair is very fine, Mother, she says. She says, One of my lovers has newly visited me, and he combed and and ornamented my hair. And she pats one of the braids with her fingerless hand.

The Mother of Sea-Beasts sees that her guest's hair floats about her head in the water. She asks, Has no one visited you, Daughter, and combed your hair for you? She answers, When I have a lover, if my hair is not in plaits, it will wind around his neck. For that reason I go to bed with my hair braided. When I do not have a lover, I have it combed and loose upon the pillow. The Mother of Sea-Beasts asks, And do you comb and plait your own hair, Daughter? Yes, Mother, she says. I do.

Then she swims upward and wakes in her own bed with her hair upon the pillows.

mánudagur, september 25, 2006


I hear the summer has been unusually dry in Finland. No mushrooms. Few berries. Your suddenly middle-aged Finnish mother (you know, that one) claps her hands together and bewails the scarcity of homemade preserves that must inevitably follow. The bears are hungry, sniffing about the bushes that have always offered forth tiny, sweet berries, their black lips and snouts finding nothing on the branches and under the leaves.

Here I have a few mushrooms, chased around a sautee pan, peppered, and spread over some pasta. I don't imagine they will be enough to get me through the winter either.

föstudagur, september 22, 2006


I know no other name for the color of the flesh of the canteloupe but melon. This is not true of all melons. The honeydew is green and yellow. So, I think, is the galia. The canary is nearly white. The charentais is the same color as the canteloupe, which is interesting, but brings us no closer to an independent name for that color.

It is not even, as things are sometimes described in English, flesh-colored. This is perhaps the most short-sighted and racist color term of them all. Flesh---actual flesh and not skin of any shade---that is to say meat, kjöt, is of course red. At least the proverbial weak flesh (as opposed to chicken, frogs, crab) is red. That we can all agree on. The color of people beneath the skin is a great human commonality.

But the flesh, the kjöt, of the canteloupe on my kitchen table is not meat-colored either. It is still that creamy-seeming orange-yellow-pink called melon. It is a few days old, though.; biting into it, I am reminded against my will of flesh.

fimmtudagur, september 21, 2006


She wonders if all highways are the same at that moment in the evening when the clouds go chalky black but the sky is still blue, barely.

Once that moment was hours long in a fading summer, driving against the sun (against the stars, the moon) from Mývatn to Reykjavík. The clouds were black, but the sky, here and there, was a faded aquamarine. She could feel, out in the darkness to her right, the Vestfirðir passing like a spoke. The car was still and the black earth turned under its wheels like a great, flat disk.

No, that is wrong: the wheels of the car turned the disk of the earth, like the tread of a pit pony turning the wheel that drives the bellows that pumps the air to the miners, deep in a yet blacker night below.

miðvikudagur, september 20, 2006


Svefn. Sofa. Hún sefur; Hún svaf; Hún er sofandi.

Draumur. Dreyma. Hana dreymdi í nótt.

She no longer seems to sleep through the night, but dreams continue to dream her.

þriðjudagur, september 19, 2006

við veginn

After hour upon hour of numbering, sorting, and coallating version after version of The Vanishing Hitchhiker, La Llorona, and countless narratives of white ladies and ghost dogs, she calls it a day. The sun has gone down. It is raining. Pouring. She has no umbrella and no raincoat. She didn't drive in that morning, but walked. Nothing for it: homeward on foot. She splashes through curbside puddles, and no one stops to offer her a lift.

föstudagur, september 15, 2006


Little bird on the walk like a wee tubby businessman: sooty black overcoat, neat gray suit, white shirt (pressed cuffs poking out), and a cheery yellow tie. I am suddenly so sorry that I do not know your name or what to call you, little thing, there on the pavement with your head smashed open.


In African-American folklore, dog ghosts sometimes appear in personal narratives. The figure seems to be peculiar to that specific ethnic tradition. Dog ghosts are generally benign and even helpful. I learned this only a little while ago.

miðvikudagur, september 13, 2006


I thought it was sad that Pluto, having been reclassified as something not a planet, should lose its name. But maybe it is worse for its moons, Charon, Nix, and Hydra. Charon got its name in 1978, recently enough, but the other two were discovered and christened only in 2005. How sad to have a name for only a year!

Charon was of course a psychopomp, the boatman who ferried souls to Hades, realm of the dead. Hydra, too, was a guardian of an entrance to the underworld at Lake Lerna. Nix (an alternate spelling of Nyx) was Night, the mother of Charon. Mothers ferry souls into the world of the living, but perhaps Night -- the realm of sleep, and sleep being so close to death -- perhaps Night also stood before the land of the dead, if not as a guard then as a watchman.

Somewhere I read that the first thing the souls of the dead lose while crossing in Charon's boat is their names. I do not remember where I read it.

sunnudagur, september 03, 2006


Barking dogs. How did that happen? Wolves don't bark. How did that start? Was it territorial? A result of competition for the scraps around human habitation that the earliest dogs scrabbled for and ate? Is the bark at base: "My garbage! Mine! Mine! Mine!"

Or is it (and this is a fertile idea) an imitation of human speech? Is it a mimicking of people yelling at those same dogs? "Get out of there! Get! Get! Get!"

föstudagur, september 01, 2006

with spots of fresh rain on his shoulders

Along and over the Mohawk. Onward, onward. I don't find that the road hypnotizes or lulls me to sleep. That's good, of course. But it's eerie the way the rest stops are identical always, differentiated only by the name of the local county. All of them are Native American names. Oneida or Cayuga or others. Even the squalling kids and the parents wolfing down Sbarro pizza seem identical from one to the other.


I saw hundreds of crows on the way here.

Hundreds? That must have been impressive ... a flock of 200, 300 crows, all black and wheeling around and cawing.

No, no ... not a flock. Just one crow at a time, by the wayside. Sometimes two. No more than that. You see a black bird stepping along in the grass, and you think, 'oh look, a crow,' and you don't think much of it. And you don't think much about any of the other crows you see, either. But hours later, you realize you've seen hundreds of crows that day.


There was an old radio show. I had a tape of it. It wasn't the Twilight Zone, I think, but it was something like that. The Inner Sanctum, maybe. I don't remember. There was a 40-minute episode in which a man driving cross country sees a hitchhiker while leaving his hometown: a man in a tan raincoat, the first drops of the incoming shower visible on his shoulders. He drives on, taking the old Route 66. Every hundred miles or so he sees him again. Always he is dressed the same way, and always, even in the middle of the southwestern desert, there are spots of fresh rain on his shoulders.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 31, 2006

brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax

A few nights ago, upon coming back to the house, the light from the entry reveals a motion on the gravel drive. She squats down on her haunches, her knees pointing away at angles. Then she sees: It is hundreds of frogs, each no more than three centimeters long, spring-loaded in their unlikely hindquarters, knees now flexed and jutting forward and now flung back straight behind. They are all hopping and jumping away from the house, away from the car.

miðvikudagur, ágúst 30, 2006


He used to hide the box from her so she wouldn't eat them all at once. This was at her request. Then, occassionally, she would ask for just one, please, shyly, with her head tipped a little down and just a bit to one side and her eyes looking up from under her lashes, coy and abashed both at once (--the way I have since then caught myself doing, sometimes, not often, and not in sight of just anyone). He would bring her one (just one), and she would place it on her tongue and savor it as it dissolved.

They were very much in love.

Then a box of them comes to light in a crate full of books. (He had hid them in the library; she had never known.) He can't bear to throw them away, and he can't bear to keep them. I said I'd drive west with them and eat them on the way. But they're five years old and melted, he said. I don't care, I said. I'll eat them on the way.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 29, 2006

þaðan og áfram

How did you get here? A decade flies by and drags you in its slipstream to places you could never have predicted. Across national borders. Through tangles of grammar. In and out of the embraces of lovers and friends.

There is no reason to think that the next ten years will not rush past just as violently and with just as many changes in its wake. It is too bad, too bad, really, that there is no way you could foresee how you will get knocked about, whither to and whither fro, what turbulence, storm, and stillness will follow. It would have been nice to have been able to plan a bit, ahead of time.

mánudagur, ágúst 28, 2006


The least place-like of all non-places I know is the newer wing of Keflavík airport. There really ought to be a recognized scale. For example, Sinsen Krysset is a classic non-place, being no more than a tangle of underpasses and a roundabout. Nonetheless it has a name and a busstop. But the younger wing of Leifsstöð, svo ég viti, is not named anything in particular. That alone makes it less of a place.

Leifsstöð itself is very place-like for an airport, also a classic sort of non-place. It has that charming nickname, for one. BSÍ is similar, as is Grand Central Station, for that matter. They are high on the scale, up at the almost-places end. Sinsen Krysset is lower down. Way down on the scale, I hold, is the new wing.

The flights to the States leave from there. It is behind another wall of security, past a line of scowling pass-checkers, isolated from the main terminal with its bar, stained glass window, bank, café, the quality duty free. Architecturally, it resembles Gardermoen, which is definitely a non-place, and this adds to the overall disorienting effect. It looks out onto nothing in particular: luggage trolleys, runway equipment. No books are available for purchase there, nor anything else really worth buying. No food or coffee of any note. It's full of people not even stopping for a day. There is nothing cosy there, no hygge at all.

Of course I'd have stopped for longer if I could. I'd leave the non-place and go out, if only onto the weird wrinkled plain of Reykjanes. Instead I sit behind the glass for a few hours, fire a few electronic messages into the ether and receive a few in return. And then off and soon far above the silent Greenland ice, on my way somewhere else.

sunnudagur, ágúst 27, 2006


What is that toy called, the dipping bird? The long-necked bird on the axle that dips and dips its beak? Another almost perpetual motion machine. Another representation of a bird that looks nothing like a bird, like those little arched shapes the lazy artist can use to signify birds high up, in flight. But the motion reminds me of real birds, not the rocking but the repetition. The back and forth. Wingbeats. Migrations.

I came in some small part to see the terns, the little brave ones that fly from pole to pole. I almost missed them. And now I will go back. Like plovers, snow geese, or those favorites of -- it doesn't matter whom -- the black-necked, dignified, dark-eyed Canada geese, flying overhead, their clattering cries like Herne's hunt.

Oh, I am hardly so noble.


It's better than 'Avslutt', which is the translation of 'Cancel' in Windows-speak. Angreknappen: the button you push when you feel regret and you want to go back to an earlier stage.

föstudagur, ágúst 25, 2006


It gets like this every time. You run around for days in exhaustion and tension, your breath getting progressively worse from dehydration and coffee abuse. You wonder how you will ever survive. Even without the frantic code-switching, there is more than enough to spin your brain about, and though half of the offerings are in fact total nonsense, you can waste a great deal of time trying to separate them from the rest. The insomnia-addled brain is not good at this, and you can make yourself feel very stupid indeed trying to wrest sense from a presentation that is, in fact, without any meaning at all.

But then it gets like this: an odd sensation creeps up on you, and you start to think that your life is always like this. You hit your stride. You will be surprised two days later when you find you have tickets to leave.

fimmtudagur, ágúst 24, 2006

havsens bunn

Two days ago someone who has very little patience for hobbits asked her what she liked about Tolkien. She answered without hestitation: The evocation of deep time. What other author has managed that so effectively?

And tonight she looks out at the sea of dialects sloshing back and forth among her friends and is struck with genuine wonder. How did this part of her life become eleven years deep? She is certain that it is depth and not length. Somehow the measure of experience in a little plot of this city is like this, a few square meters of almost incredible depth, a bore taken in the Greenland ice or in the center of a neolithic burial mound, a plumb line let slowly down into trench off Japan.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 22, 2006


If you saw and understood Lost in Translation, then you probably understand it. If you hated it and didn't see the point of it, you probably won't. It's those odd, arrested, interrupted friendships. Long friendships that feel like you are seeing them on ancient, cracked celluloid where you can see the frames flashing by and the black bands between them. Only the strange magic of our eyes and brains summons from this flickering the perception of motion, of narrative.

Sitting by a friend of this sort (one with black streaks of blankness streaking through him), having lifted the last glass and smiled across the table at your other tippling mates, you can feel that he has, simultaneously with you, hit that part of the evening when all the sadness in your life climbs up onto your shoulders and curls around your neck like a cat, a mink, an ermine.

You look at him and he looks at you and you both say your goodbyes to the others and walk off to the train. He is going east and you are going west, and so you part ways where the platforms diverge.

sunnudagur, ágúst 20, 2006


Man blir kjent med Oslo på nytt:

Big Bite Meny
Kvikk lunsj
Stengte toaletter i Frognerparken

laugardagur, ágúst 19, 2006

den usynelige

It's not her imagination. It happened the last time she was here, and it certainly happened all the time when she lived here.

There are those glass doors -- in banks, post offices, in front of the 7-11s belching the perversely tempting smell of superannuated frankfurters rolling on the bars of the grill -- the glass doors that slide open in response to some signal from an electric eye. Dørene åpner automatisk, the little sign informs us, we ought not to try to push them in and open ourselves.

She would walk up to them, right up to them, and stand there stupidly as they remained shut. Infuriating. She would wave her arms at them. She restrained herself from addressing them verbally. Eventually, as if the electric eye had been occupied reading a newspaper and had only just noticed her, they would open.

Always it would make her wonder whether she was, in fact, invisible. It would have fit with so many other things.

föstudagur, ágúst 18, 2006

svart hav

I thought I heard the old man say ...

It's either an anchor-weighing song or a song about the first month of pay that sailors got, finally, long after having put to sea.

Just one more pull and then belay,
Oh, poor old man

It sprang to mind in a too-warm café on the southern tip of a west-coast island on the old sea highway of Norway (it is still the sea highway). I was talking to the old man resting in a chair by the wall after bringing me my waffle and my watery coffee. There was a map on the wall with a red pin stuck into the tiny image of Iceland. I remarked on it. Oh yes, he said. He had been four, five, six times on summer fishing boats in the north of Iceland: Skagafjörður, Ísafjörður, Siglufjörður, Akureyri, chasing the herring.

I came in on the chorus: And then the herring disappeared. (I thought: He must have been a young man then. The herring boom, the herring ævintýri -- adventure, fairy tale -- was many years ago.)

Oh, yes, gone, bort og vekk, svart hav -- "black seas."

It had been silver seas when the herring ran. There are songs about it.

I was sorry to have to leave to catch my bus.

mánudagur, ágúst 14, 2006

dætr Ægis

Below the car decks, she supposes the sea outside has gone from Prussian Blue to darker things, more opaque. She can't see it, of course. In her berth there is no light and no porthole. Lying side-to the forward motion, the pitching of the ship becomes the rolling of her bed.

It is nothing like being in the belly of a whale -- she is sure of this even without ever having been in the belly of a whale. It is like being in a giant's cradle. The giant's daughters rock the cradle and whisper to one another about the tiny creature they have found; their father has not come home yet.

sunnudagur, ágúst 13, 2006


The bells ring every fifteen minutes. The sound squeezes into her castle room, through the bars, and spreads out again like a unit of light scattering through the two slits to the consternation of physicists. Of course, she could not have known that the interval was fifteen minutes if she did not have a tiny, silent clock of her own. And isn't that the odd thing, to imagine those bells as the arbiters of time, as they were, centuries ago (and would anyone have known it was centuries without some mechanical calendar?). She thinks of monks rising and praying, rising and praying, at all hours in the old sense: matins, vespers, all those hours. When there was no other time but this.

Somewhere behind this all, she thinks she hears a distant, low, mournful note like a foghorn. It is dark, her eyes are shut, and she cannot at all determine its interval or even if she is only imagining it.

But soon it is time to go.

laugardagur, ágúst 05, 2006


She used to take demon lovers. Djöflar, púkar, óhreinir andar, undarlegar vættir allar.

She had a charm, a spell that would summon them. A few words and some numbers with no apparent meaning. And then they would emerge out of the night or from the twilight of dawn or dusk, come to her in her rooms and slide soundlessly into her bed.

One would think that they would have possessed her. That is the usual language and way of these things. But it seems rather that she possessed them. Perhaps the charm was also a binding. After their meetings she would send them back into the mist to be, again, invisible to all.

Eventually she stopped reciting the charm. At the time, she wasn't sure why.

Some time later she found it again, scribbled on a bit of paper and jammed into the pocket of a winter coat. She flattened out the paper. Then, on a whim, she pronounced it backwards.

She told me, once, softly and smiling, what happened then, but I don't think I will tell you what she said.

föstudagur, ágúst 04, 2006


She was living on an island then. Her father, meaning well and wanting to surprise her, dug out an old seal fur cape from a trunk in the attic---it had belonged to her great-grandmother, an immigrant from another country---and sent it to her in the mail. She sighed when she opened the package and saw the translucent white fur. She decided not to chide him in a letter, even though she knew that she would never be able to bring it home again. Travelling in that direction, it would be surely be confiscated by customs agents. The laws vary from one land to another. She hung the cape in the closet of her rental apartment, where it stayed for months.

When the sea-ice broke up in spring, and the black shore was once again lapped by green-gray surf, she went out with the cape around her shoulders to the edge of the cliffs and, after pausing to draw a lungfull of morning air, leapt out into the wideness between the vault of the sky and the restless sea. She traced a long arc through the air, disappeared into the waves, and swam away.


Red Letter Day.

Also, it would seem, a read letter day.

It is nice when those two match up.

miðvikudagur, ágúst 02, 2006

allt ljómandi

It lies in the eyes upstairs. Everybody's naked on his back without his brother. Excuse me, but we are starving here and we are going to have to eat your car.

It's always amusing to translate Icelandic expressions word-for-word into English.

The one I always found most heartbreaking was ég segi allt ljómandi. It's a standard, peppy answer to the inevitable question: Hvað segirðu gott? i.e., How are you? Lit. What do you say good? Icelanders being insanely optimistic and unrelentingly hressir, they often answer Ég segi allt ljómandi, i.e. Everything's great! Lit. I say everything shining.

I say everything shining.

There's a fantastic poetry to that one, especially on a clear, clear, blue-skyed day with the glacier far out on the end of Snæfellsnes glampandi---the snow and ice glittering over the glass-green water---Esja and Skarðsheiði and everything almost too near.

Especially, too, when you know that they say this, Icelanders do, regardless of their actual internal state. The sun is shining, another clean-cut, fair-haired (they are not all fair-haired, but let us say this one is), long-limbed young man says everything just shining! and he could be newly heartbroken or newly done breaking someone else's heart. Before you know this, you may be taken in. You may hear no minor-key undertone in the phrase, only cheer.

Those bright days are stunning, but after duskfall (there is no nightfall in high summer) you will hear hrossagaukar rising into the air on whirring wings, and it will give you chills, and you will remember that the other side of the year is dark and cold and beckons the glaciers down into the valleys.

þriðjudagur, ágúst 01, 2006

ekki imponerandi

Reykjavík's least impressive free daily has an interesting story today. I say interesting because I was tempted to say 'amusing' but realized in time that this would be inappropriate. Apparently, the Iranian President has issued a decree (I am unsure how otherwise to understand tilskipun in this context) forbidding his countrymen from using foreign words and expressions. He has even issued a list of good Persian (Farsi) words to replace commonly used slettur. 'Pizza' is of course to be replaced, we are to understand, by a word meaning something like 'stretchy bread' (teygjanlegt brauð). Even the vocabulary borrowed from Arabic, the language of the Koran, is to be stamped out. The whole thing pains me, even though I don't speak a lick of Farsi.

I imagine Ahmadinejad would be appalled that this was being reported in Icelandic.

mánudagur, júlí 31, 2006


Then there is that other thing, when the three lowest ribs on each side spring loose from your sternum and flail outward like desperate fingers or the arms of a magnificent crab. Your jaw drops open in sympathy and surprise, and you look about yourself in the impossible hope that your eye will fall on something you could seize with both hands and stuff into that horrible gape to keep your lights and vitals from dropping out.

That you would never have imagined on any summer evening, however crushingly beautiful.

gamli elskhuginn sem aldrei sagðist elska þig og mun aldrei segja það

Not to give Sigurrós too much credit, but you finally felt something while hearing their music. It helped that you were outdoors on a strangely warm, late summer night, Hallgrímskirkja a dagger in the lace agate sky, the sun neither neither up nor quite disappeared, the air sharp with green grass trampled underfoot by the placid wool-clad herd. The murmur could have been part of the composition. Hljóð. Hljótt. Hljóð.

It feels like a cool hand closing around your descending aorta, that great conduit of blood. It doesn't stop the flow entirely, but it you realize that it could, and it is as if you found yourself standing at the edge of an abyss, newly aware that you could, someday, fall.

You've felt it before. You felt it sidle by years ago at another concert in Oslo, in a crowd with X-rays of people in motion projected on a giant screen. Then it was just a tug at that unsung, bowed muscle that works your lungs. It was a foretaste, an intimation, long before you ever set foot here, in this place.

You've felt it at a choral mass for the dead (even before anyone had died), and upon seeing shocking white peaks over a winter-bound city, and upon seeing birds rise into the air. You've felt it here, every time, sooner or later, and with some regularity on such clear, mild, late-summer evenings.

sunnudagur, júlí 30, 2006


Do not underestimate the sense of dislocation and that attaches to realizing that the end of the month has come and also that there is no reason to think about paying rent. No need to find the checkbook, locate a stamp, or make panicked online transfers. No need. You hold no lease at the moment, and you do not have a key to anything.

You might fight this sensation by plunking yourself down on a bench by the seaside and sketching distant mountains. The tide between you will rise and fall, but the jagged horizon stays blessedly still.

föstudagur, júlí 28, 2006


Amorous oystercatchers seen near the busstop. Unusually few ducklings on the Tjörn (though I have not noticed exceptionally fat gulls). We are past the really intense part of the tern season, when they dive crazily at your head. Eiders on the anchor chains at the harbor. A sandpiper. The standard helping of geese. An immature black-headed gull swooping over the line for hotdogs.

I miss the whistling swans. I do not know where they are. Tomorrow I will go out to the headland and look for them.

aftur og fram

Into the transparent blue in a new, sleek skin and the feel of the water holding her up is like the embrace of an old lover. Clouds scud past overhead. Five kilos heavier but not a pound weaker in the force of each stroke. Push off from the bank on each turn, satisfied with the perfect length, the right hand comes down on the tiled edge just when it ought to. Turn and glide out again.

On the deck taka nokkrar armbeygjur for the pleasing sense of exertion they give in the backs of the arms. Smile at this and feel in the muscles of the face that it is a new smile, one borrowed from a more recent friend and never before used here.

miðvikudagur, júlí 26, 2006


The accents are weaker. Security is tighter. Café París is nearly unrecognizable. Lord knows what they are doing to Fógetinn there on Ingólfstorg. I tried to buy a tveggja vikna kort for the damnable Strætó at the terrible sjoppa on Lækjartorg, but it's gone now, replaced by a tourism whatsis.

(Til huggunar eru Fjalakötturinn og Hressó aftur á sínum stöðum, þó bara eftirlíkingar.)

The worst is that some fool has changed the packaging of the classic, nay, venerable Opal. This on top of the discontinuation of the Blue, which was like wiping out part of the spectrum of white light, is altogether too much.

I do not wish this country back into the fornöld. I do not like to think of myself as one who demands that a place remain frozen in time, a theme park of the authentic, all the inhabitants playing the roles of those people who were there when she first came. But I do not like these changes. Yesterday evening I gazed appreciatively down at a pool of water by the harbor and admired the blood of unlucky fish resting at the bottom.

þriðjudagur, júlí 25, 2006


In dark times you may find yourself standing on an enchanted isle in the middle of the river Lethe. It is populated with graceful, shadowy beings. They wear the faces of beautiful animals and of your kindest former lovers, but their dark eyes are their own. They glide and float. They coo and twitter. They speak of comfort. Beware of them: they offer only fleeting pleasures (though sweet), more regrets, and lasting oblivion.

Or you may find yourself on the bank of another river, a shallow one with nearly still waters, and feel certain that your journey must be continued on the other side. Do not ford it. Its waters have the quality of turning anything dipped into them into silvery stone. This river has other uses (the stone lifted out from its waters holds a marvelously fine edge), but do not wade into it now.

Find instead the warm spring called Bloodstopper. Its waters have a stanching virtue. Lower yourself into it. But do not stay submerged too long even here. Too long, and it may still your blood all the way to your heart.

mánudagur, júlí 24, 2006


Of course. French cher is from Latin carus. English cherish is from another form of cher, apparently a superlative. But look: carus is from PIE *qar-, the same root that gives us English whore, OE hore, ON hora, OHG huora. (Behold Grimm's law at work: Latin C and Germanic H, as in centus and hundred, canis and hound. If kærleikur is indeed from cher and carus, then its initial consonant has made an end run around the first Germanic sound shift.)

But whore is a bit strong, don't you think? *quar gives words in other daughter languages of a more pleasant nature: not just Latin carus but OIr cara, "friend," and even Skt. kama of the Kama Sutra. One wonders: Have Germanic speakers been historically more given to cursing those they once loved? Heartbreak can have unpleasant side effects, some of them behavioral. Certainly Brynhildr went to extremes in avenging herself upon a man who had once been kær, dear.

Or maybe it means nothing. Only the most sensitive of us will, perhaps, avoid kærleikur in favor of ást.

Full credit here to Douglas Harper's Online Etymology.

sunnudagur, júlí 23, 2006


Heavens, a person gets stiff sitting in one place. Being jammed into an airplane seat does not help at all. You step out onto the ground again, sniff the air, and would stride off with all moving parts gliding perfectly and smoothly past each other, but alas, every joint is kinked and crabbed. Simple things take forever.

But there is a simple solution. Exercise, æving, is the answer, as it so often the case. Tökum bara nokkrar beygingar. Those declensions will be clicking along like a four-cylinder engine in no time.

laugardagur, júlí 22, 2006


How extraordinary that the word care comes from PGerm (*karo) and PIE (*gar), roots meaning to cry out, to scream.

Kær, kærleikur, &c. I have always assumed derive from whatever French gives us modern cher, cheri, &c. The native Norse is presumably ást. But does cher derive also from PIE *gar? I have no idea. Later, I will look up the sound changes in Romance that would make clear whether this derivation is even possible. I'll have to look it up: Romance is not at all my strong suit.

But how touching that those ancient lexical wellsprings of care are gone, gone, lost to us and now existing only behind the * that designates a reconstructed word. What presumption. To think that one could ever truly put such things back together again in their original forms, the way they were when living people held them, gently or angrily, in their mouths.


I dimly recall puzzling out the meaning of the word vei. This was back in the gray dawn of my romance with the language as a whole (a friendship that blossomed slowly into something more, as can happen). My native speaker interlocutor was struggling with an explanation when it struck me: woe. There are some striking parallel constructions: Ó, vei mér! Oy, vey ist mir! Oh, woe is me! As usual, the Icelandic is more compact than the Yiddish or English.

Then there is the construction: vei + dat. = "woe unto __," e.g., vei þér, "woe unto you," "woe be to thee." Handy, if that's the sort of thing you would like to express in a succinct form, and haven't we all had days like that?

Paradoxically, vei is also used like English "yay," as in vei vei vei! Ég fer í frí til Majorca á morgun! Jibbí! I'm sure the natives don't confuse the two, but isn't the idea of such confusion an interesting one?

föstudagur, júlí 21, 2006


All light is grayed out when the rain hits. The river disappears. The bridge vanishes. Thunder resounds. Lightning sparks. I can make out the brick wall of the adjacent building, thickly furred with ivy. The passing billows of wind make the leaves ripple like the pelt of a huge animal buffeted by rough waters.


Looking at the sealions swimming around and around in the green water of their tank, a person might feel foolish observing these animals so far from their own native place. But then they've come so far in so many ways. They used to be something like a dog, something like an otter, and now look at them: eyes shut, sleek bellies skyward, cruising below the surface like perfect torpedos. When they break the water, the water's refraction always makes for greater displacement than you expect.

What might they be thinking, so far from their beginnings, their home, their bent-sunlight images?

Here swim I, long since neither dog nor otter. I live now ever at sea. I do not wish to claw the earth. My skull is like a wolf's skull and my body like a barbed spear piercing the broad flank of the ocean. I am never where the sun thinks I am. I am somewhere else until I rise and turn, and then I dive again.

fimmtudagur, júlí 20, 2006


It is very nearly unbearably hot. The air is damp, and this makes it seem darker. These are not nights for wrapping yourself in furs. Still, blast the air conditioning if you must, damn the expense, and dream of wolves.

miðvikudagur, júlí 19, 2006

Child #92

Kaatskills. Kinderhook (was that once hoek?). Ghent. All of a sudden I am in the Lowlands. The shaggy horses are not Frisians, more's the pity, but there is farmland aplenty and lowland place names. With lunch I have a blackcurrant lambic all the way from Belgium, sour and astonishingly magenta in color.

þriðjudagur, júlí 18, 2006


One of the classical names of these parts. There are many.

Albany, Albion, albus, albedo. Albus is white, and so Albany is the white city. Albion should be the white land, the shining land. There is an old British (not English) root under the name; I was once told it meant something like shining and referred to the surface of the Earth. Albedo gives more than a hint of that sense, one might say reflects that deep root.

Here the surface of the earth is a dark, rough green.

miðvikudagur, júlí 12, 2006


It is a familiar double silhouette, one figure cradling another at the side of a darkened street after the bars close. She faces away from the passers-by, towards a shopfront. He holds her by the shoulders gently, firmly, as if she were a heavy bottle of wine upended and shaking with every gulp of air choking past the liquid splashing out. Another liquid is forcing its way out of her body.

Such couples are a common enough sight on the nocturnal, bar-lined streets of Northern cities, though this is not one. There, it is often as not the ignominious beginning of a beautiful romance. You may well wrinkle your nose as you pass them, sure of your rootedness in another, more tasteful romantic culture and accordingly of your own immunity to such public humiliations.

Maybe you are already a few steps past them when another sound makes its way to you, and you realize that you have misread the scene: It is not a beginning at all but an end.

mánudagur, júlí 10, 2006

lamin vísa

Of stutt, alltof stutt ...

Ástmann á hún
þó sorglegt sé að
hundar hjartans
við mánann gelta,

laugardagur, júlí 08, 2006

kunna, geta

I have many unusual abilities. Such things are come by in odd ways.

I learned a language almost alone by piecing together sincere descriptions of my thoughts and fears as if with tiles scavenged from ancient mosiacs. I would then hurl them from my window into the blackness of space. Somehow they did not shatter.

I can fold a fitted sheet into something nearly square. I marvelled the first time I saw someone, a nurse, perform this feat. Now I can do it myself.

fimmtudagur, júlí 06, 2006


Oh, how I hate the meme.

I have never read Dawkins. I probably wouldn't have anything much against him if I did. But, oh, how I hate the meme as an idea. Observe the Wikipedia entry for meme. A handy list of common memes is included. Here are some of them:

* Jokes (or at least those jokes popularly considered funny).
* Proverbs and aphorisms: for example: "You can't keep a good man down".
* Nursery rhymes: propagated from parent to child over many generations, sometimes with associated actions and movements.
* Children's culture: games, activities and taunts typical for different age groups.
* Epic poems: once important memes for preserving oral history; writing has largely superseded their oral transmission.
* Conspiracy theories
* Fashions
* Medical and safety advice: "Don't swim for an hour after eating" or "Steer in the direction of a skid".
* Movies: very memetic given their mass replication — people tend to replicate scenes or repeat popular catch phrases such as "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men or "Alllllllrighty then!" from Ace Ventura, even if they have not seen the movie themselves.
* Religions: complex memes, including folk religious beliefs, such as The Prayer of Jabez.
* Viral marketing: A type of marketing based on memes and using word of mouth to advertise.
* Group-based biases: everything from anti-semitism and racism to cargo cults.
* Internet phenomena: Internet slang
* Anecdote: short joke/story

Observe the Wikipedia entry for folklore. A handy list of genres is included. I have reproduced it below with some color coding: Where a folklore genre corresponds closely to an element on the meme list, the genre and the meme have been given the same color.

* Ballad
* Blason Populaire
* Counting rhymes
* Costumbrista
* Custom
* Folk play
* Epic poetry
* Festival
* Folk speech
* Folk art
* Folk belief
* Folk magic
* Folk metaphor
* Folk poetry and rhyme
* Folk simile
* Folk song
* Folk tale
o Animal tale
o Fairy tale
o Jocular tale
* Games
* Holiday lore and customs
* Joke
* Legend
o Urban (or Contemporary) legend
* Material culture
* Myth
* Memorate
* Proverb
* Riddle
* Superstition and popular belief
* Taunts
* Weather lore
* Xerox lore

Not listed among these genres are catch phrases and traditional advice or folk wisdom (e.g., steer into the skid), but they too are supposed memes that fall well into the ambit of folklore. And fashion is a subset of material culture, that is, costume. At the head of the entry, we are told that Dawkins also regarded ways of making pots or of building arches as memes. I think that would be material culture, don't you?

Worse yet, Dawkins has some superorganic notion of how the blessed memes circulate, replicate, etc., heavily reliant on a biological metaphor. Folklorists (who, viz. abovementioned entries, have been studying this sort of cultural phenomena longer than the memologists) tossed out the biological metaphor and superorganicism a long time ago.

Tell me again why we need this meme thing.

miðvikudagur, júlí 05, 2006


Smelling gunpowder and seeing the explosions flash over another city, I think of independence and of Námaskarð, where I stood peering into the stinking paintpots on a solo circumnavigation last summer, a sulphurous pause before setting out again on the open road.

Hringvegurinn is of course anything but an open road. It is a closed road, a ring, a serpent biting its tail. I imagine that if it unhooked its hindmost barb from behind its foremost teeth, it would rampage over the earth, spitting poison and destruction. Something to be avoided.

Thinking of independence and what people may be willing to do to gain it. This country used a fair amount of gunpowder in wresting itself free from King and Parliament, some if not all of it made with sulphur from northern Iceland. Iceland, on the other hand, used very little of its own stores (or anyone else's). Considering what sort of independence movements are, at the end of the day, most or least destructive.

þriðjudagur, júlí 04, 2006

rogo, rogare

Killing time drifting through the overpriced bookstore, the new books unaccountably smell of curry powder and, less surprisingly, regret. Is there anything more sad than seeing things you would have given as gifts to certain people, had the appropriate moment not passed?

Of course there are. There are a thousand things more sad than that. It is a stupid question. It is a question that forms in your mouth out of habit, even if you have never said it before. Its syntax is simply the way you express, that all people express, that particular emotion, even though the actual words are nonsensical. It is like bemoaning one's fate with a plaintive Why me? when you know full well that no answer to that question would begin to satisfy and when you do not believe in anything like the fundamental cosmic order that would allow such an answer.

Less rendingly, it is like that Tvíhöfði sketch in which a fellow keeps responding to his friend's excited narrative with the usual discourse markers used to manage conversation and signal the listener's attention and appreciation: Nei! Þú segir ekki! Ég trúúúúi þessu ekki!. This rhetorical and meaningless question to the universe--is there anything more sad than--is a discourse marker in a conversation with life and its vaguaries.

mánudagur, júlí 03, 2006

upp og niður

Þooooooooooli ekki að pakka niður. I loathe packing up. Going is not always so bad, but packing up I find dreadful.

For years now I have been amused at how my Scandinavian friends invariably confuse English pack up with Scandinavian pakke opp. Americans pack up to leave. Scandinavians pack up (or out) only once they've arrived and they've begun rooting through the cartons and lifting out various objects and belongings. The other activity is, quite sensibly, packing down.

Up and down. Opp og ned. Upp og niður. I seem unable to block out the imagined voice of Johnny Triumph singing Luftgítar. As I have packed up (or niður) all my CDs, this earworm will have to do.

laugardagur, júlí 01, 2006


Feeling paremiological this evening:

Good advice is only of use if the recipient is prepared to take it.

Oughtn't this be proverbial? Perhaps:
Gagnslaus eru góð ráð
gaumlausum manni

Could that be? Please advise.

fimmtudagur, júní 29, 2006


Rue: To feel regret. A complicated, blended derivation from OE hreowan (to grieve) and hreowian (to feel sorrow), perhaps influenced by ON hryggja. The noun, "pain, sorrow," is derived from the OE verb.

Rue: A species of shrub. The name may be derived from Greek rhyte and is not related to the other word rue, above, despite the numerous puns seen in English literature. Apparently it is sometimes used to flavor claret or fruit preserves, but only in small amounts, as it is an irritant. Should one pluck the pale leaves by hand and so develop welts and ulcers, the remedy is hemlock. This is not so drastic as it sounds: the hemlock is meant to be applied topically. Rue is a perennial evergreen, which is amusing in that it makes it possible and even accurate to say that "rue springs eternal." Strangely, it has been used against headaches and nightmares stemming from emotional causes and against hysterical spasm. Unsurprising, the leaves are bitter in flavor.

Rue, in French, is also a street. Today, though the words are unrelated, I am thinking about it as a road.

miðvikudagur, júní 28, 2006


My only English-English dictionary is in a box somewhere. The boxes are piling up. Even without consulting it I can say with some security that Icelandic hlaða "to stack up" and English lade "to load" are related. The Icelandic gives you the option of middle voice hlaðast for communicating the sense of helplessness associated with the stacks seeming to pile up on their own. You don't hear lade much anymore outside of bills of lading. I suppose I'll have one of those when it comes time to shift all this.

The boxes full of books are about 45 lbs each, 20-odd kilos. That's weight or mass, of course. I'm not sure how to measure the quantity of knowledge, fræði, in each book or grouping of books. Perhaps it's best done in volume, like a liquid. That would make sense, given the liquid and alcoholic nature of fræði or at least kveðskapur. Indeed, ladle is related to lade and hlaða as well.

It is beginning to make sense to me that several of these boxes come already emblazoned: Budweiser, Corona, Tsingtao, Red Hook, and the very evocative Eye of the Hawk.

þriðjudagur, júní 27, 2006

vildi, væri

I had known that the blue rose was a kind of holy grail for the flower set. I even have a hazy memory from early childhood of some movie on television that my parents were watching (this was when I was still too young to have fully absorbed the conventions of small-screen storytelling; I could not follow a television plot) in which the protagonist couple hunted high and low for a fabled blue rose. In fact I don't even remember that much. My dim memory is only of what I presume was the climactic scene, in which someone reached to grasp an artificial-looking flower in (I believe) a cave while half-whispering, half-gasping, "the blue rose ..."

I should hold some sort of contest to reward the person who can identify what movie this was, but said individual should not expect a prize on the order of an actual blue rose.

Apparently, the red iris is a similar mythical, coveted thing. There is something about both flowers -- the classically red rose and the classically blue iris -- being subject to such counterfactural desires that strikes me as ridiculous and sad, like the beautiful brunette who is miserable because she is not blonde having a lunch date with the gorgeous blonde who wants nothing more than to be brunette.

What really is the point of chasing such floral exotica? My favorite roses are a deep red, and my favorite irises a creamy blue. I do not think this makes me the sort of person who settles for the second-best or even (horrors!) the pedestrian. Perhaps my fondness is, in the most literal sense, for the mundane.

mánudagur, júní 26, 2006


The second and fourth quarters of the moon produce a neap tide, when the different between high and low, ebb and flow, is the least of the month. The strip of shore where murderers might be buried is at its most narrow, and thus is, I suppose, the safest part of that safe zone not properly belonging to either land or sea. Fitting that it is the the even-numbered quarters, smooth rather than the pointed, odd numbers: Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Not much to choose between the high mark and the low mark is the entire point.

The word comes from Old English nepflod, and, like many words about country things and things close to the rhythms of nature's mysterious processes, it has not changed much in the journey to Modern English. Whence it comes to Old English is apparently not known. It seems always to have been more or less as it is now.

laugardagur, júní 24, 2006


The largest member of the thistle family. It is striking how many people do not know that the artichoke, uneaten, blooms into a huge, spiky, purple flower. It is almost sea-creature-like, some weird anemone or coral waving with delicate, hollow fronds. I believe it is a compound bloom, that each apparent petal is an entire flower complete with pistil and stamen and nectar.

Pace Joseph Harris ("Cursing with the Thistle: Skírnismál 316-8 and OE Metrical Charm 9, 16-17", in Neuphilogische Mitteilungen 76 (1975), pp.26-33), but these thistles seem to me bursting with fecundity.

föstudagur, júní 23, 2006

lítill heimur

The agent is very pleasant despite having huffed up three flights of stairs and remarkably prompt as well. He eyeballs my ostensibly moveable goods, and I give him a corner of the table to do his figures. He has his back to my most incriminating case of books. Will I be associated with the university, he asks. Yes, I say, and sit up a little straighter. Teaching what? Scandinavian literature, sagas and things like that. Really? he says, and then, well, there's some of that in English literature too, Beowulf and all. I am impressed and say so. Not everyone knows these things.

After a few more strokes of the pen we get back to the business of reviewing the numbers and handing over business cards. I show him to the door and get back to the business of dreary logistical phonecalls. Soon I have an insurance agent on the line. Change of address, transferral of coverage, current balance, can he have an e-mail address. My e-mail is in flux, and I am forced to give him my private address. I spell it out carefully. He repeats all the ridiculous consonants back to me.

So, he says, that's Norse or Swedish or something? I laugh. It's Icelandic, and I tell him what it means. He laughs. That's great, he says, like Snorri Sturluson. Exactly! I'm surprised you know anything about my field! This is your field? Yes, it is. Wow, that's great -- I mean, I've read the Prose Edda, but not in the original! I tell him he's ahead of most people. I'm an Anderson, he says, so I feel obligated to read up, you know?

We manage to address my technical questions between the other, more interesting topics. I recommend the recent Penguin translation of the íslendingasögur. He says he's read the Heaney Beowulf and didn't like it. Really? Yeah, I don't know, he says. Just didn't do it for me. Well, I say, I like Heaney in general, so maybe that's it. Ah, he says, I could talk to you all day and keep asking you questions, but my supervisor is going to come around and hit me with a stick. Well, I tell him, you could always challenge him to a hólmgöngr.

mánudagur, júní 19, 2006


I heard some actor on that terribly pretentious television program where the interview always concludes with a set list of questions. One of them is "what is your favorite curse word?" This actor (I do not remember who it was) answered, "*****shit." There was a beep, but the word was clearly horseshit.

I too am fond of this word. It is so much better than bullshit. Or rather, more refined somehow.

In fact, I've thought about this. Bullshit, I think, is frequently spouted by someone who doesn't realize that he is spouting it. A fellow says something at a party that you know to be utter nonsense, perhaps a widely-held but mistaken belief, perhaps simply his own gross misinterpretation of reality. Aww, you say, jerking your head back a little, squinting, and pushing out your lower lip (an exaggerated expression, because you too are beer-tipsy), aw, that's bullshit, man. He is affronted. What? He was sure that it was true, whatever he said. No, dude, you continue, you have it totally wrong, and you do your best to set him straight.

(This is different from the verb to bullshit, nota bene, which implies a great degree of intentionality and conscious deception. The bullshit-spouter is likely a blockhead, whereas the bullshitter is either a witty liar or rake.)

Horseshit is an entirely different substance. He who speaks horseshit knows he is doing so. He may be extemporizing on a topic well known to him, or he may have crafted the stuff with no little care the night before. It is a curious fact that the relative processed-ness of verbal bullshit and horseshit is inversely proportional to that of their non-metaphoric counterparts. Cowpats are more fully broken down and odorous than the fibrous deposits left in the wake of military parades, as horses have less efficient digestive systems than do cows. Equids pass clods more grass than shit, but he who pronounces horseshit (there is no verb *to horseshit) passes on a product that has been well worked-through. Nevertheless, spoken horseshit and spoken bullshit stink equally. I digress.

The purveyor of horseshit may well be discoursing on a subject no less refined than the chosen medium. It might be about art theory, or philosophy, or the economy, or social policy. Such speeches might move one, upon hearing, to rise to one's feet and call out in ringing tones, Senator, that is horseshit, causing the chamber to rustle with shifting feet and whispered expressions of mock scandal.

Am I right? Are there any native speakers out there who would like to correct me?

laugardagur, júní 17, 2006


A day spent sniffing out your own typographical errors. This is hard work on a hot day. The sun beats down on the page and then up at your eyes, or else you play hide and seek, moving from table to table in the café to stay ahead of the blinding beams. It shouldn't be a long hunt; the text is a short one. Unfortunately, it was written in haste, in the growing shadow of a much longer, weightier text. It shows. The worst part is that the hot, hot sun is cooking all the garbage bins of all the cafés on the block, and the stench of putrifying tablescraps overpowers the delicate scent of a misplaced comma or the wrong sort of bracket.

miðvikudagur, júní 14, 2006


Odor out of place. The scents hit the nose and make the brain wonder. Eucalyptus today smells like mint. The steam rising through the grates on the University grounds smells of baked goods. Then the synæsthesia kicks in as I pass a planter full of vivid purple flowers of the same species as those in the tiny planter on Frakkastígur I was once charged with watering, and I am awash with the memory of the toasty, malty reek of the nearby brewery. I think it has since been torn down.


The amusing native production error of the week was provided by an eight year old watching The Sound of Music who asked if the characters were speaking Germish and then laughed at herself. I enjoyed pointing out that her inadvertent coinage, a mix of two words for two different languages, was almost self-referential. Germischen should mean exactly to combine German with other languages.

Inspired by this, perhaps, I have tinkered with odd combinations in the days that followed. The flavor of hot cocoa was made considerable more rich with a dash of spicy curry powder. Scones were improved when laced with black pepper and grapefruit zest.

Munching and sipping, I am moved to consider that Yiddish fermisht has very different valence than Old Icelandic blandið. The Norse one implies pollution or (and this is really captures the word as it is applied to Freyja) adulteration. The Yiddish speaks only of silliness, mixed-up-ness, harmless confusion.

sunnudagur, júní 11, 2006

non lieux

Airplanes are no more places than airports are, it occurs to me. It occurs to me at 36,000 feet, on the second leg of what has unexpectedly become a three-leg journey zig-zagging acrosss the face of the country. Wedged between fellow passengers, I find jet-powered cruising altitude less congenial than one achieved last night over dinner with the aid of wine and wit.
Hvaðan þið eruð