föstudagur, desember 26, 2008


Lemon with cloves pushed into it, slowing shrinking in the dry air
Rosemary, potted, a paper ornament dangling from a spindly limb
Tangerine rind, vanilla extract, confectioner's sugar
Hot butter
Crushed pecans, toasted
Guttering candles
Green tea

miðvikudagur, desember 24, 2008


  • rorqual
  • grampus
  • orc
  • leviathan

þriðjudagur, desember 23, 2008


Sugar can be wrenched into extraordinary shapes, some translucent and others pearly. It takes some doing. After more than a few minutes spent coaxing out peppermint ropes, an ache forms in my shoulder and my hands sting from what had been too-high heat.

But that is wrong: I have not been scalded. I learn this when a broad strip of my own skin drops lightly onto the counter. Looking at my hand, I see it has been pulled from the inside of my thumb between the first joint and the web. The lozenge-shaped absence is un-wound-like. There is no blood or even a seepage of plasma or other moisture, only a neat window through the epidermis. The dermis is identical; the same whorls and lines cross it. It is only darker, pinker, softer, and for a moment I feel that bandaging it would be silly.

But the pink diamond is also infinitely more sensitive. The air alone hurts it, as if its lying only infinitesimally closer to the heart makes the outside beyond endurance. I've found a layer of flesh not yet ready to face the world, not yet ready to take on being me.


Several batches, not all of them successful. One, a solution of white sugar in cherry juice, refused to coalesce as taffy, fudge, or even hard crack. Prolonged cooking turned it deep, charred wine. You could -- with effort -- push the edge of a wooden spoon into it and carve a glistening furrow. It was perfect, dark sugar with no crystal in it.

There are more things called glass than just the stuff in window frames. Obsidian is one. Sideromelane is another. Muscovite is a third. Isinglass is not a physical glass (neither the fish gelatin nor the mineral), and its etymology is obscure. I grew up on the edge of a disused isinglass quarry, and I remember how the soil everywhere glittered. I would push my fingers into the dirt in search of larger pieces I could then pry apart into transparent flakes with my stubby fingernails.

In Cocteau's Orphée, from which i remember almost nothing, I remember this: In the Underworld a man walks the main thoroughfare calling out the name of his wares, selling not icecream but glass.

föstudagur, desember 12, 2008


I cannot any longer remember how many times I have seen Christmas come and go there. It is not possible that it is very many, but still it takes only a snippet of internet-mediated TV news -- human interest about some neighborhood association at each other's throats about the seasonal stench of Þorláksmessuskata -- to send me into a fit of nostalgia.

Nostalgia was once regarded as a physical ailment, the sort of illness that gets written up in the Merck Manual. The final stage, according to some, was characterized by bleeding gums, sunken eyes, and the opening of wounds long healed -- in other words: scurvy. Science has progressed, and the two syndromes have been disentangled from each other; scurvy is merely a deficiency of vitamin C.

This leaves open the question of what nostalgia is. Perhaps it is both a miasmatic disease and a deficiency. That it, maybe it is the lack of certain smells floating on the air that brings it on. Here there is no whiff of gamey tallow, no elasmobranchitic ammonia, and no hot palm oil ærosol. The bits of evening news I watch the following morning are not accompanied by any olfactory closed-captioning. I may have to search for some form of supplement not available in the pharmacy aisle.

sunnudagur, nóvember 23, 2008

með rauðum fána

One of his oldest friends described him in their student days. Listening, I could see him in my mind's eye, a young man swinging one-handed from the pediment of a statue of Absalon, waving the red flag metaphorically if not literally. It was still the capital then, still the only university.

I wish I were able to stay up drinking calvados with him. I want to talk with him about these extraordinary events, the crowds of thousands in the square every Saturday. I have no doubt he would have numbered among them. But also -- and I am sad about this -- I am glad he is not here. Even had he lived to see these difficult days and been able to lend his voice to the growing outcry, I doubt he would have lived to see happier days come again.

mánudagur, nóvember 17, 2008


"You smell good."

"I do?"

"Like winter."

sunnudagur, nóvember 09, 2008


Berries on the branches and the leaves half fuschia. There are hundreds of birds hidden there. You can hear them. Their finch-red feathers make them invisible.

mánudagur, október 27, 2008

út og suður

Hundreds, maybe thousands of birds twisting like a veil over the cornfields. All ten commandments on billboards by the roadside as if Moses had come down the mountain on a combine. Barn roofs painted with outdated battle flags. Buzzards. I saw a sign flash past at one point, telling us of a crash and that children had died.

mánudagur, október 13, 2008

nöfn húsanna

I was in a village of red sandstone walls and coal grates when I first saw houses with names in place of numbers. Sometime much later I realized that the numbers were place of names and not the other way around.

I've seen many of them since, and I no longer find them so exotic.

But I think my favorite is Vinaminni -- Memory of Friends.

sunnudagur, september 21, 2008


I can hear an ice cream truck rolling past on a nearby street. I can never seem to tell what street is it, however. The jingle of it Dopplers first towards us and then away again, never stopping at the here and never once coming into sight.

And that tune. Why that one? Infernally catchy, almost insipidly rural-sounding, like a hokey leitmotif signaling the Entrance of the Hayseed. I write this despite having never heard it in any context but this one, the circuit of the ice cream truck. (It is just as well no one remembers the tune from minstrel shows.)

Ice cream used to be hokey-pokey, but Italian hokey-pokey men no longer call that phrase out. In fact, the ice cream man is no longer reliably Italian, just as the beat cop is no longer Irish.

I have never seen the truck here, and so I have not gotten to chase it, catch it, lean against its metal flank (on a sunny day, searing hot - be careful) while pushing a few coins across the window's narrow steel lip across to the man in the jacket. I haven't done that since I was a child. But summer is over anyway, and I don't need to see the truck to know that it is white.

miðvikudagur, september 10, 2008


It is a new house now, the once-greasy kettle scrubbed scratchy-clean and the counter swept of crumbs. The early morning grumbles. The middle of the night wheezes, turns, grasps for the coverlet.

laugardagur, ágúst 23, 2008


Going through old photographs, I squint at another shot of a black desert, angular mountains against hanging clouds, taken from beside the car on a rusty-colored road. Dimmifjallagarðar? Möðrudalsöræfi? I feel absurd trying to recall a place name for an all but trackless waste. In theory, knowing the name of the track might help, but the choice seems to be between "1" and "109," and neither would feel really satisfying as an answer. Rummaging through still older pictures, I find I have taken this same photo at least twice before. It is a good photo, even if I do not know exactly what it depicts.

sunnudagur, ágúst 10, 2008


Snæfellsnesjökullinn is fast vanishing, melting up into a tiny cap of snow atop the volcano. Of course Iceland's paper of record has a trenchant comment on the matter. Morgunblaðið notes that if the ice recedes, we can only assume that the entrance leading to the center of the earth (as per Jules Verne's description) will soon come into view. Trust even the Icelanders of our day to quip so while staring ineluctable fate in the eye.

It's Hekla, not Snæfell, that was always said to be the entrance to Hell. The ancient geographers tell us so. Maybe Verne was closer to the truth. The gate will open and the world will end -- if not in flames then in deceptively ljúfur sultry heat.

Then perhaps the conveyor belt theory will turn out to be correct, the Gulf Stream will stop, and the prophesied fimbulvetr will finally come and everything will freeze. The giants will march from the north with vengeance in mind: Jökull is a jötunsheiti as well as a common glacier. Hekla is a witch. Vatnajökull is the father of churning, silt-choked rivers, monstrous daughters who in their youth threw mountains of ice down on the floodplain. In the cold they will make glittering fists and punch through the highland dams. Afterwards they will lay their heads back in their father's lap and kick their feet in the sea.

föstudagur, ágúst 08, 2008


Ravens on someone's suburban lawn. I don't know if anyone else recognized them. Maybe, if asked, they would have claimed to be crows.

þriðjudagur, júlí 29, 2008

to: see "from"

Posting things to yourself always feels a bit odd. It's the grownup's version of the only child's fantasized game of catch, in which preternatural fleet-footedness allows the single player to slip his hand under a ball he has only just thrown. The adult can drop the package off on the way to the airport and race it to their mutual destination. You will pass it with ease and, if you are sharp-eared, spring up to open the door before the mailman even reaches the steps. Surface mail is nowhere near as fast. You will have unpacked, caught up on sleep, seen friends, attended movies, and maybe half-forgotten posting it by the time it arrives.

Strangely, the closest analog to the impossible ball-toss is the slowest. Don't put it in the mail at all. Lock it up somewhere. Go about your life, probably several hundred miles away. Procrastinate. Then get around to finding the appropriate weekend and drive back there. Open it all up and take out what you put inside. Once it's in your hand, you'll be amazed that the thrower and the catcher could be one and the same person.

fimmtudagur, júlí 17, 2008


There were birds under the window last night. I heard their voices. I did not understand what they were saying. I listened anyway and felt like an eavesdropper.

laugardagur, júlí 12, 2008


I only looked down once or twice. It's never a good idea. It would be so easy to misstep, and there really isn't any way one would survive the fall. It is fortunate that it should be just as easy not to misstep. Up there the path is only a dotted line. Every step has been marked by the people who came before you: right, left, right, left. Just slide the toe of your boot into the red-brown print. It feels like the insole of your oldest slippers, the ones you don't even have to look at because your feet find their own way into them before you even know you are sitting upright on the edge of the bed.

mánudagur, júlí 07, 2008


I've never heard that horn in this town before. The spire of the church is gone, smudged out by whiteness like a correction on a blueprint. Are the boats in the bay still out there? Now even the water by the shore is an island.

þriðjudagur, júlí 01, 2008


Eins og sólin, she kept explaining. Samsetning bókarinnar er eins og sól: bjart í miðjunni og svo dofnar birtan um leið og geislarnir ná lengra burt.

Sem sagt eins og hjól með geisla í öllum áttum.

Nei nei. Eins og sólin. Mikilvægasti hlutur textans er í miðjunni og mynd af konunginum, en á undan og svo eftir er fjallað um alls konar atriði sem skipta minna máli.

Eins og sólin. I drew a sunburst.

Nei nei! Ekki þannig, ekki eins og hjól!

Ég næ þessu ekki. I flip the pencil around my thumb. Then I see it. Þú átt við sól lágt á lofti. Sólsetur. Sólina á Íslandi. I draw the bright stripe under the clouds, over the water.

Já! Já! Sólina á Barðarströndum!

Það þekkir enginn þá sól þar sem þú ert að fara.

Ekki það?

mánudagur, júní 30, 2008


Spurningar lesnar á veggnum:
  • Leyndarmál?
  • Nýmálaður?
  • Hvar er mörgæsin?

sunnudagur, júní 29, 2008


Somehow they tip the whole city and everyone flows uphill and then over a little rise into a grassy bowl. Rivulets from everywhere. Hjólandi keyrandi labbandi. Eddies of seventeen-year-olds with green cans of Carlsberg swirling around Hlemmur and waiting to pour into the nr. 17. Innanbæjarmenn, utanbæjarmenn, foreigners, tourists, dogs.

The stage faces the hillside. The hill is full of people. They stand. Some sway. Their edges lap the fences. The music holds the flood of them up against the hill, and if the speakers did not pump out blasts of violin and voice and drum they would crash down against the stage.

But when the city tips back, flow around and out, down towards the harbor. They leave cans and papers and plastic behind. Children picked through the grass and carried the rubbish to the bins.

laugardagur, júní 28, 2008


rok og rigning
sól og blíða
himinn og jörð
haugur og heiðni
þú og ég

miðvikudagur, júní 25, 2008

í þess ljósi

It's all running together with no darkness between one day and the next. Somehow, I sleep every 16 hours or so. If I could remember my dreams I suppose I would know what day it is.

fimmtudagur, júní 19, 2008

berum orðum

They shot the second one yesterday. Now they are saying it wouldn't have survived its own rescue. It turns out that is was a she - not ísbjörn but ísbirna or ísbera, not Ófeigur but Ófeig, and at the end only feig. It is very sad.

There's a farmer up north who has dreamt of three, and so now we are waiting for a third great-footed, long-headed white ghost to pad up the beach. He says modestly that he is not especially berdreyminn, however -- not someone who has prophetic dreams with particular frequency.

The ber in berdreyminn is the bare of being uncovered. A berdreyminn maður has dreams that speak plainly and give up their meanings easily. They want to be understood. They hide nothing.

Snorri writes of Óðinn's select warriors: berserkir. Ber-sarks, ber-shirts. Snorri says they fought like animals, roaring and howling as they went into battle. He says iron did not bite on them and fire did not burn them, nearly invulnerable though they wore no armor. Thus the name. Snorri's etymology is no longer universally accepted. Berserkir looks rather like úlfheðnar - wolf coats. Imagine a man kitted out for shapeshifting.

I remain in hope that the farmer up north is proved berdreyminn after all and that his dream of bears comes true. I hope, too, that the third bear is truly ófeigur whichever etymology he prefers.

laugardagur, júní 14, 2008


  • kríugarg
  • piff
  • The wind through the metal slats of the sign on the east side of campus
  • NÚÚ-úú-ÚÚ-úú-ÚÚÚ--!
  • Other people's incoming text messages
  • The jerky hum of the rotating billboard by the pool
About that last one: A loop of illustrated plastic slides by under glass, stretched between two rollers like a closed-system window shade. There are maybe three advertisements in rotation, and as one shifts into view on the heels of another the thing whirrs and stops, whirrs and stops. It is a terribly lonely sound even on a bright summer day. I cannot put my finger on why.

föstudagur, júní 13, 2008

í fréttunum

Hvað getur maður sagt? For the first time this country inspires no rush of words, not in any language. The tongue is grown thick again, but that does not go very far to explain the strange sensation of having little to report, lítið að frétta. It may be a simple case of contagion. The locals, as always, segist ekki hafa neitt að frétta, svo sem. Það venjulega, bara. Sama gamla. The same people do the same things at the same times and nothing changes.

This is nonsense, however, as always. Parents are sick. The University is in upheaval. The economy is in spasm. Polish words now ring out over the everyday noise of the downtown. Car chases, of all things, are more frequent. All this is new and therefore potential news, but here news is fréttir not nyheter. Someone has to coax events into speech, ask and tell---frage, fretta, fritte---for anything to be news, and this is catching: You've crossed thousands of miles of surging sea, gone finally native, and segir ekkert að frétta heldur. But the natives have always been this way---það eru engar fréttir---no news of itself.

Go out to the headland to where the birds are and let them dive at your head. Maybe they will whisper something in your ear as they zoom by. Maybe you will find that you have something to say in return.

föstudagur, júní 06, 2008

vi blir fisk

Moving around out there in the dark they are giant fish, dorsal fins and tails lit from below. You are among them, not swimming but as if resting on the bottom. You are there a long time. When your own craft finally flaps up and away, banking left and right, you can see lights. Are they above or below? It is impossible to say. There: boats? No, things flying-swimming like giant phosphorescent fish. Now the plane rights itself and ships come into view in the direction that must be down--not the ships themselves but their lights made indistinct by the surface of the invisible water. Angler fish trolling. Everything nearly weightless, either because you are so, so sleepy after such a long wait or because you actually are in the heavy deep blackness of the sea.

sunnudagur, júní 01, 2008

á heiðinni

"'Sun and dark she followed him ... '"

"I know that song. It's--"

"And then 'he led her over the mountainside' ... but I don't know the next word, the name."

"Reynardine. It's Reynardine."

I wake up with a voice sore from straining for notes I cannot reach.

mánudagur, maí 26, 2008


Always the same on Sunday evenings. One of the public radio stations plays Bluegrass until dawn, old time Bluegrass punctuated with halting commentary by an un-radio-seeming announcer. The other station plays Blues.

Apparently, Bluegrass is named after a special band, the Bluegrass Boys, and their bluegrass comes from the region where the actual bluegrass Poa pratensis grows. The Blues are named for the metaphorical blue color of sadness, which, it seems, is quite old -- even as old as 1385.

Blue has a strange history in English and elsewhere. The PIE base *bhle-was meant yellow here and blue there, a light color either way. In Old Norse blár was black here and blue there, pitchy in either case.

fimmtudagur, maí 22, 2008


It is probably a bad habit, but I am looking at pictures of dogs in the local shelter. Several of them look happy to see you -- which is to say happy to see the photographer. Several more are also listening to something off to one side or behind them. Some are more remarkable, at least at first glance.

This one looks very intellectual what with the little fawn-colored double-apostrophe eyebrows on his black face. He looks like he's just said something and attributed it to Catullus. He isn't being obnoxious about it. He hopes you know the passage, and if you don't, he's happy to be able to introduce you to it. It's such a good passage -- everyone should know it.

Another one with unearthly blue eyes, tiny eyes, dim-sighted starburst eyes that double merles get -- and deaf, of course. I hope some one adopts him, and I hope that when that person ruffles the fur behind his head that he somehow hears good dog!

miðvikudagur, maí 14, 2008


Maybe she really had been in love all that time. It felt a lot like it. She had smiled to herself thinking of his face, thought about how his footsteps would sound on her wooden floors, fantasized about his being there when she woke up, imagined touching him. Silly love, the kind she had never before permitted herself. She'd only ever seen him once, after all, and he hadn't taken much notice of her. Silly love, and silly heartbreak, and in the end it will be all right.

mánudagur, maí 12, 2008


A very dainty thing, cream and gold and thin porcelain, and I should never had left it where a shoal of stoneware might slide down onto it. I had only ever had three. Now I will have to be content to drink chocolate with a single guest instead of two. Perhaps that would not be so bad, either.

mánudagur, maí 05, 2008


Poor old horse! Poor young filly. Eight Belles stumbles and splinters. Do not search for the photographs. They are horrible: not of a gunshot to the temple (she was given the needle) but of sickeningly bent forelimbs.

Far sturdier horses have raced for thousands of years. The Norse raced the stocky ancestors of Norwegian fjordings and Icelandic horses on tracks called skeiðar. Iceland is still dotted with place names ending in -skeið. There is also a town in Lancashire, England called Hesketh, which was once hestaskeið. The Norse were there -- not the Danes, as in York, but Norwegians. At some point, Hesketh acquired lords.

The Heskeths (Heskeyths, Heskaiths, &c.) are easily traceable to within a few generations of 1275. The present Lord is Thomas Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh KBE PC. Lord Hesketh is best known for his interest in formula one cars. He founded Hesketh Racing, constructed cars, and assembled a team that competed until 1978. In 1980, he turned to motorcycles, and the Hesketh V1000 was born, followed in later years by the Hesketh Vampire. The company staggered and collapsed in 1982, but first Hesleydon Ltd. and then Broom Development Engineering took up production.

Broom also seems to be the one to turn to for repair, should your Hesketh show signs of needing it, but the cycle is so well-engineered that you may never have to call. The frame is "light but rigid," and the telescopic front forks are "renowned for rigidity, excellent damping and long service life."

sunnudagur, maí 04, 2008


May Day come and gone before I really noticed.

Quaeritis unde putem Maio data nomina mensi?
non satis est liquido cognita causa mihi.

Ovid has Polyhymnia, Urania, and Calliope each give her own version of the origin of the month's name. It is named for old men, for majesty, or for Maia: most beautiful of the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas and Pleione, she the daughter of Ocean and the giantess Tethys. Mercury was her son, and after she led him to place where Rome would later stand, he named the month in her honor.

The god of thieves was a dutiful son. Nec pietas haec ultima est.

miðvikudagur, apríl 23, 2008


She keeps her heart between the pages of an etymological dictionary.

laugardagur, apríl 19, 2008


"Two at seven. And what's the name?"



"Exactly. Let's try the last name: Paradisæa."

"Did you say 'Paramecium'?"

(laughs) "No, actually, but let's just say that: Paramecium."

"Paramecium. I'm sorry. I'm hard of hearing."

"That's all right."

"Actually, I'm still drunk from last night."

. . .

fimmtudagur, apríl 17, 2008

Spring came while I was away visiting a place with no seasons. Now everything is flowers and hot noondays. One blink and stifling summer will be upon us.

sunnudagur, apríl 13, 2008

lest, forget

Trains. I’ve been on this one before. There had been obstruction on the track—for an hour at a time we were unable to go forward and forbidden to go back. The grinding, halting progress became painful. I recall buying a deck of cards in the club car, and that had helped a little. Rules and turns shaped the time. No stakes, no cheats.

Farmland. Jackrabbit hurrying over stubbly pasture full of oblivious goats. Tract housing like an invasive species of lichen grown up on the bareness. On the other side, fruit trees. Now cactus, now fields flashing with standing water between the rows. Ditches. Trailers. Brittle trees. Angus. Did I see any of this back then? I can’t remember. Now folded chaparral hills still hazy in the cool.

This time, no delays, and I will meet myself at the station.

föstudagur, apríl 04, 2008


It is blowy out there.
  • vindeygður - "wind-eyed," i.e., teary and squinting from looking into the wind. How foolish for any language to lack a synonym for this word.
  • vindóttur - "silver," a technical equine color term. Silver is a dilute factor ... there is a lot of fascinating genetics behind this, but leave that aside for a moment. Adjectives in -óttur are a closed class. Something göldróttur is magical, from galdur, an old chanting word that has come to mean "magic." Something vindóttur must be windical. (Windy and winded already mean other things.) A vindóttur horse has lighter vindhár, "wind hairs," a lovely name for the water-shedding, top layer of the coat and the mane and tail. "Guard hairs" seems a bit defensive. Then again, Icelandic horses are barons of the fields and have little to guard against. The wind, however, can be fierce and blow their manes straight over their heads.
  • Vindólfr - "wind-wolf," the name of a dwarf. Are we meant to understand a connection to Ragnarök? The end of the world is after all heralded by skeggöld, skálmöld, vindöld, vargöld -- axe-age, sword-age, wind-age, wolf-age. It is a famous stanza. I always confuse rök, doom or fate, with rok, a stiff wind, or maybe it is the other way around. Ragnarok would be a holy wind, and maybe it would blow in that final, catastrophic wind-age.
  • Vindljón - "wind-lion," an entirely different animal. Vindljón is (in Gylfaginning) the father of Winter. I wonder if you could get the name past the Mannanafnanefnd these days and give it to a child. I wonder if anyone has tried.

Meanwhile, here, the March wind-lion blows, famously, for spring.

laugardagur, mars 29, 2008


On a whim, I searched for the phrase "sand dogs." I found this. It seems to be an orphan page. "Microscopica," if it was ever a going project, is now defunct.

þriðjudagur, mars 25, 2008


Things I have cooked for kind men:
  • Leeks
  • Lamb stew
  • Vatnsdeigsbollur
  • Angelhair
  • Pears in red wine
  • Whole trout


Things I have cooked for unkind men:
  • Beef tenderloin
  • Indonesian rice
  • Grilled Salmon
  • Breakfast

laugardagur, mars 22, 2008


Dreams of you are out of season, but then you weren't actually in this one.

There were several of us in what was meant to be your apartment. There many rooms, beautifully and extravagantly decorated. Nothing was as I remembered it. Each boasted a heavy, Jacobean piece, deeply carved. I guessed that these had been taken out of storage, and I remarked on them. Já, gott að þeir fá að njóta sín. (Who was the speaker? A lackadaisical guide of some kind.) I was surprised at the half-wall. The apartments hung out over a huge open space like the balcony of the theater. Construction was taking place down there.

Walking out, I saw a wall hung with clothing on hangers, some of it children's clothes, little suits from a hundred years ago. (They were too rich to have been yours; you were born in a dirt-floor house and grew up poor.) What will happen to the clothes? I asked. No one answered, and then we were outside and the door shut behind us.

fimmtudagur, mars 20, 2008

í neðanjarðarlestarstöðinni

I'd said it right, but tracing the letters with my forefinger I couldn't decide whether it was -ar or -ir. Ég er að tapa niður íslenskunni, segi ég. Mér sýnist ekki, segir hann. We walk. It is sunny.

She has long, wavy honey-colored hair and the long limbs of a beauty in the theater. Here, she says. Since you're interested in language. Heitir það að hekla eða að [eitthvert sagnorð sem ég næ ekki] hekl? I hesitate, trying to reconcile the two phrases, half sure that the second means "to drop a stitch," though it can't. Hekla, segir hún. Það er gamalt orð. I am still confused. En hvernig var frasinn?

She gets distracted as we reach the subway entrance. Down we go. I sit astride a triangular-eared dog, not much larger than a shepherd, and I feel badly for my mount as he jounces down the concrete stairway. He doesn't seem overburdened.

Now I need my wallet from our friend in order to pay. He is riding around on his baggage now. He takes it out of an inside pocket, and I thank him. Where are we going?

mánudagur, mars 17, 2008


She starts talking to me out of the blue. Adolescently awkward, dark eyeliner, low-cut jeans, her arms folded around the pillow she's brought with her. The case is printed with characters from an animated film. I am sure she is fifteen until she mentions her husband.

She is going back to Indiana. She doesn't want to go. She had so loved being up there. The best place she'd been. She says something about her husband and the base and another thing I don't catch at all, though it might have been about deployment. She shows me a bruise on her wrist and tells me about her father. Am I more a religious person or a spiritual person? She used to be really into Wicca, but not anymore. She tells me about her wedding dress and about what her in-laws said.

We are hurtling through the air, and still everything seems airless: nothing holding up the plane and nothing inside to breathe.

We stop in Anchorage. The mountains are just fading out of dark blue visibility into charcoal and blackness. We'll be on the same flight onward, she says, but meanwhile she's going to the lounge. She's military, so she gets to wait in the lounge.

When we board again, I do not see her.

fimmtudagur, mars 13, 2008

á ferð og flugi

I used to wonder, in my unnecessarily anxious childhood imaginings, what would it would be like if it happened on a plane in flight.

I can tell you this: The whistle is annoying until I truly wake up and see her facing down the aisle past me. “Hello! Emergency!” and then the whistle again. She is small. Her practical white hair caps her head and frames the glasses that frame her face. Her glance is intense. (No wonder.) I don’t see the color of her eyes. Her whistle is through the teeth, loud and stern, what I’ve always thought of as a country whistle. I can imagine rowdy children being called to order and inside with a whistle like that. I can imagine her having had rowdy children at some point.

The attendants do not run up and down the aisle, but they do walk purposefully. An oxygen tank is carried forward. Later, a black bag the size of a large purse. Still later the steward tries, unsuccessfully, to palm a stethoscope as he moves past. It turns out there is someone, anyone on board, maybe a nurse. They ask over the intercom just like you’d think.

The polite among us try not to gawk, but it is all going on just inches above the level of our eyes where, I learned once in a Conan Doyle story, people are most likely to focus their attention. If I crane my neck, I can see his wavy white hair over the back of his headrest. I work on not craning my neck.

Now they’re starting the movie. It’s a farce of a fairytale. The girl will get her prince, and after ninety minutes or so we will be told that they live happily ever after.

þriðjudagur, mars 11, 2008

how to walk on two-day pack

Press down with your heels. Do not push back with your balls of your feet: you have no grip, and you will only kick the air and kiss the ice. Press down with your heels, one after the other, and let your body drift forward as you rise and fall with it. Press, press, press. Hear the voice of your long-ago riding instructor telling you to let your heels sink behind the stirrup irons. Do not stand forward on the balls of your feet: the horse will turn and you will fall over its neck. Hold your shoulders easy. The horse will feel it if you tense them. It will throw him off his stride, and when he stumbles, you will go tumbling backward over his haunches.

Press down with your heels and post along.

sunnudagur, mars 09, 2008


The snow building up against the window glass looks like travertine.

I learn that it is lapis tiburtinus, the stone of Tibur, that is Tivoli. For me, Tivoli is a pleasure garden in Copenhagen. Its name is another tiny gesture towards a long-standing Northern fascination with an imagined, exotic, leisured south. Last I was there, there was nonetheless snow, if only the artificial sort sifted over a life-sized diorama of secular Christmas. When in Iceland, a tivoli is a traveling carnival, called, of course, after the garden in Copenhagen. All carnivals in Iceland are traveling, I think. I remember a ferris wheel unfolding quayside in Reykjavík in 1998. I was so struck by the notion of a carnival moving by sea.

I learned the word tivoli late, another new sound offered on the seductive tongue of the North. I learned the word travertine when I was still very young. It was a word for talking about buildings and geology. They were related for me, a small person inquisitive about things my own height: the wainscotting, the chair rail, the doorknob. If the wall were clad in stone, I would want to know which stone it was.

My father worked in a tall building with a lobby entirely clad in travertine. Its whiteness was so different from the dirty gray streets of the urban empire outside. Waiting for the elevator with my mother, waiting to ascend into the world of powerful men, I would poke the stubby edge of my fingernail into the holes and crevices.

sunnudagur, febrúar 24, 2008


First the most familiar ones.

Lions and tigers come to us from Latin (leo, tigris) and Greek (leon, tigris) though Old French (lion, tigre), though some of the tigers, oddly, made a detour though England (OE tigras). The tigers may ultimately be Iranian. In Iceland the tigers are tigrisdýr, as if helpfully labeled by a literal-minded classifier: "tiger-animal." The lions may be Semitic: Hebrew is labi. They got loose in Germanic early: German Löwe, Old Norse ljón. They have long since set up camp on the banners and shields of Europe.

Then further afield.

Cheetahs are from Hindi (chita) from Sanskrit (chitraka), named for its spots. The root is citra, and its semantic range is quite wonderful: bright, clear, that strikes the eye, speckled, strange, curious, a riddle, a pun.

No one talks about pards anymore, but they are good Latin cats (pardus) with Greek roots (pardos). They may have relatives in Sanskrit (prdakuh).Without them we wouldn't have leopards, which are of course lion-pards by way of Old French (lebard, leupart) -- thence Icelandic hlébarður. If it were straight from the Latin, it would be ljón-barður, but it is instead a courtly transplant like the chivalric romances. The first element now looks like the word for pause (hlé), making Icelandic leopards lazy cats indeed.

Lynxes are old; they have their own PIE root, *leuk-, shared with words for light in languages across Europe. Lynx, also, are found widely (Lithuanian luzzis, OGH luhs, German luchs, OE lox, Swedish lo). The Greeks get them before we do (lyngz). (Whence Norwegian gaupe and Icelandic gaupa? I have no idea.)

The ounce is as rare as the pard these days. We would not have them at all without the French, who mistook the l- in lonce -- from postulated Vulgar Latin *luncea, from Latin lyncea and lynx -- for a definite article and gave us once. I like these confusions. This is how we got newts from efts and nicknames from eke-names. Now we have ounces if we want to be poetical when discussing snow leopards.

The jaguar's scientific name is Felis onca, in which onca is, I think, a neo-Latin word back-formed off the French misunderstanding, thus ounce-cat, lynx-cat. The leopard frog is Rana onca, and with onca standing for leopard we have the jaguar as leopard-cat or even lion-pard-cat, which seems excessive. The name jaguar itself is a Portuguese borrowing of a Tupi word (jaguara).

Ocelot was coined in the 18th century, in French, by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, based on part (ocelotl) of a Nahuatl word (tlalocelotl) for jaguar. The word's affinity with chocolate (xocolatl) pleases me. From now on I will probably think of the ocelot as the chocolate cat.

Lastly the panther. It is prosaic Old French (panthere) from Latin (panthera) from Greek (panther), apparently with Sanskrit parallel (pundarikam) meaning tiger. Older interpretations are more interesting. Some people are still discussing whether its derivation could be Greek pan-ther, all-animal. In the Exeter Book and the Aberdeen Bestiary, the panther is a figure for Christ, thus Christ is the true panther: dominus noster Iesus Christus verus pantera. The panther's breath and voice are sweet, and it sleeps a full three days after eating before rising on the third. Perhaps on Easter morning I will come downstairs to find panthers waiting for me.

None of this possible without Douglas Harper.

föstudagur, febrúar 15, 2008


PIE *lewbh -

Lithuanian liaupsẽ̇, 'praising'
Albanian laps, 'wish, want'

Old Church Slavonic l'ubu, 'dear, beloved'

Gothic liufs, 'dear'
Old High German liob, 'dear'
Old Icelandic ljúfr, 'dear'
Old English lēof, 'dear'

Latin libet, 'is beloved'

Sanskrit lúbhyati, 'feels a strong desire'

Hesychius' Lexicon (5th C.) gives us the Greek word lyptá: 'concubine, prostitute.' There is no relation to the casual Roman word lupa, 'whore,' which literally means 'she-wolf.' The modern descendants are in Spanish loba, Italian lupa, and French louve. That last one is also confusing, or perhaps for some, evocative, but Proto-Germanic *lubo and OCS l'ubu have nothing to with any Spanish lobo. However the Roman lupa and the Greek lyptá disported themselves, love and wolves shared no common PIE ground.

Perhaps I am looking in the wrong place. If I shut my eyes, cock my head, prick up my ears, I might hear them outside singing liaupsẽ̇, songs of praise, uncer giedd geador.

miðvikudagur, febrúar 06, 2008


Three days and nights of feverish dreaming.


We were hidden up there in the dingy white room only I knew about, a tiny servant's quarters on the upmost floor of the old house. We were protected there from the outside by a steel grate like trap door. We decided we would let in as many as we could until we unequivocally ran out of space, but we had to be sure they were still fully human. We were dubious when those two of them came asking for shelter. The face of one was so gray and his eyes so bulging that we couldn't be sure about him. Then he started to sing. We all joined in the familiar tune as we slid the bolt away and opened the grate.

No one dared venture out in search of food. Below we saw one of them go flailing madly by. Then we waited.

It passed eventually, and it was safe to emerge onto the streets into a new, refreshed world. I got the feeling that it had been years.


This I remember the least well. I recall his back looked familiar to me from where I stood as he rolled away from me in the bed, even though he'd become hairier with age. It happens to some men.


There were impossibly tall brick walls -- brick like an abandoned industrial building from the 1920s -- around an open space. If you fell (or jumped) you landed in a sea of green mold and spores that floated up around you and threatened to choke you.

Also there was swimming. I tried to hit a slow, steady pace so as not to run up onto the soles of the swimmer in front of me (a woman with the physique of a rower). A smaller woman, stunted maybe, dogged me and criticized. I concentrated on my breathing. I found it odd not to have to turn my head but slightly.

laugardagur, febrúar 02, 2008


The morning is bright and blustery after a cold night. The wind has peeled the leaves away from where their shadows had frozen to the pavement. They are as colorless as glass, delicate as slippers forsaken on the steps of the palace.

miðvikudagur, janúar 30, 2008

í brautinni

I think the front left wheel had simply rolled off right there in the passing lane. It was dark, but I think I saw it tipped on its side a few feet past the bumper. I did see the empty wheel well and the chassis tipped forward like a horse that had staggered and fallen onto one knee. No driver in sight. Someone had set out a line of pink, smoking flares. There were no police, no flashing lights, just a procession of cars making the same swerve to the right and then back over and over again without stopping. I found myself feeling badly, like I should go over and over to help it back up, but I was on my way somewhere too.

sunnudagur, janúar 27, 2008


I only just saw it: a bit of fur in the dusty corner between the brick wall and the cold metal door frame. It looked like the scrap of an animal someone had crumpled up and carelessly discarded after using only once.

There was a quick breath pulsing in it, some life in the furry pouch after all. A small brown bat. I disturbed it: it began clambering on its tenterhook wrists across the pavement to the flowerbed. I did not leave until it had hooked its way a double hand's-breadth up the wall and bivouaced head-down from a meager twist of vine.

When I came back, after dark, it was gone.

mánudagur, janúar 21, 2008


Skyldi grafa Bobby Fischer í þjóðgrafreitnum á Þingvöllum? Hvað gengur að fólki?

Var Fischer þjóðarhetja? Hvað gerði hann fyrir þjóðina á borð við skáldin Jónas Hallgrímsson og Einar Benediktsson? Var hann yfirhöfuð Íslandsvinur? Af því að hann er orðinn eins konar eilífur konungur skáksins?

Ég efist um það, að Ísland hafi gott af því, að annar konungur mygli í jörð Frónsins. Hrærekr réði í Heiðmörk fyrr en Óláfr helgi blindaði hann og sendi til Íslands, sér til öryggis. Sagan segir (Óláfs saga helga í Heimskringlu, K 85) að sá einn konungr hvíli á Íslandi.

Hrærekr var ekki Íslandsvinur frekar en Fischer var, bara óvinur aðrar þjóðar, einmitt eins og Fischer. Hann var ekkert merkilegur sem maður þó að hann hefði verið konungur í Heiðmörk; Fischer var ekkert betri manneskja þó að hann hefði verið konungur á skákborðinu. Hrærekur varð blindur og illur meðan Fischer varð illur og blindur á annan hátt, siðblindur, og gyðingahatur streymdi upp úr honum í áratugir.

Samkvæmt Landinu þínu Íslandi var Hrærekur heygður nálægt Kirkjubæjarklaustri. Ég hef komið þar og séð hauginn. Hann er ekki mikill og ekki höfðingjalegur í laginu. Mér finnst það passa ágætlega.

Mér er eiginlega sama þó Fischer verði grafinn á Íslandi. Láta hann fá reit, venjulegan reit einhvern stað. Hann tók sinn hlut af merkilegum reitum meðan hann teflði gegn Kasparov. Nú er það búið. Gröfum hann og gleymum.

sunnudagur, janúar 20, 2008


laugardagur, janúar 19, 2008


When it's this cold after a few warmer days, the streets are dry but edged with crackly white. It is salt rime more than hoarfrost. It is not too slick to cycle over.

Hoar is the English cognate of ON hár. It is the first element of Óðin's psuedonym Hárbarðr, if that name means "greybeard." According to Douglas Harper the word remains in German as the honorific Herr. That would mean it is also in Dutch in Mynheer (or more properly mijnheer -- my Anglicized spelling is from the stories of Washington Irving). This means that the word is in Old Norse twice, once as hár and again as the honorific herra, "lord," borrowed in from an earlier form of German.

Rime is old, too. It might be related to ON rim, rail, though I'm not sure whether a rim can be horizontal. It might be related to rimi, a raised strip of land. I will think of this, now, when I go rattling over the broken pavement pushed up by frost heaves and crusted with salt.

mánudagur, janúar 14, 2008

á staðnum

Non-place, non-time. In transit in an anonymous coffee house chain I find I have no idea what timezone I am in. I stare at the readout on my cellphone, the one that reflects a self-updating internal clock, and try to work the absurdly simple math back and forth. As a result, I know what time it is on the spot, but I am not sure where that spot it. The relative temporal position of other people whose spatial location I am sure of I cannot figure.

I struggle with this for---twenty minutes? In any case until I am called for boarding and jet off into places even less place-like.

þriðjudagur, janúar 01, 2008


No bells, no ringing, but the first shouts and buzzes from noisemakers are accompanied by a sudden gust of wind that lashes the first drops of this year's rain against the windows. A few fireworks pop and hiss, and the first siren whines some blocks away. Black tree branches are tossing against the soft-seeming, pinkish gray. They are, modestly, beautiful.
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