The Saga of Emily D. on Ice on Fire

The why must Provoke so much more
Than curiosity
To leave the refuge of my Home,
My Century—my mind.

It must spark a burning Passion
For peering over cliffs
Regardless of depth, height, angle,
Or what’s lying below.

A monstrous white Mechanical
Raptor with blue belly
Propels me through space. I defy
Time and gravity and

Death. And now I must eschew this—
My traditional form—
Common ballad meter combined
With capitalizing

the first word in each line
and random ones in the middle
in favor of this subtle
lower case field.

I will suspend
my disbelief,
but I will not relinquish
my four-line stanza.

We hit, then bounce,
then hit land again
on a mysterious island
in a gale force wind.

I see no flowers.
No trees—where are my pines?
Where can that narrow fellow hide
without any grass?

Led into a plaza
with electric lamps
through a maze of lines
formed by people in abnormal dress,

I am asked to produce documentation
I didn’t know I had.
I see stamps
from other countries:

France, Mexico,
Republic of Ireland,
Japan, Italy, Egypt,
Canada, India, Cuba.

It looks like I have been traveling
far and wide
alone in my dreams
since I died 131 years ago.

I climb aboard
a horseless coach
to watch this strange land
unfold before me—

lava fields of obsidian,
basalt, moss, mountains,
snow, steam, ice, more moss.
I smell mortality in those rocks.

So exhausted from a sickness
I’m told is called jet lag,
I barely notice
the absence of bees or flies or frogs.

About my encounter
with geothermal hot pots,
I will never tell—
slant or otherwise.

I see a mammoth waterfall,
a widening crack in the earth,
water gushing upward
from a hole in the ground

almost on cue. Earth’s burps
and flatulence.
I have met Geysir—
where geysers come from.

I have written of volcanoes.
“I have never seen Volcanoes—”
till now. My words
begin to congeal:

“A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb.”

I learn other names
to compare to Vesuvius and Etna:
Katla, Snæfellsjökull, Grímsvötn, Eyjafjallajökull,
Hekla—the Gateway to Hell.

There are 30
or more
“never slumbering,”
many beneath ice.

I see miniature horses
with long manes
and double-thick coats
race one another

and our carriage on a black bridle path
running alongside the road. Once again,
“I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—”

Later that night
on another horseless coach,
we head into the darkness
away from Reykjavik’s brewing nightlife.

We search for something
called the Northern Lights—
or Aurora Borealis—
or Norðurljós.

Some say they are the spirits of unmarried women.
Others say no pregnant woman
should gaze upon them
for fear of birthing a cross-eyed child.

I have said before—
“There is another sky.”
Never like this. I see God
has ignited his torchlights tonight.

Gradually, cosmic greens, purples, veiled whites.
What is he searching for?
My lost spirit? The hidden people?
The sun has been drooling again.

We return to the city to revel after midnight.
“I taste a liquor never brewed.”
Then again, never say never
this close to the Arctic Circle.

In the morning, Reykjavik’s tattooed buildings—
wall poetry—tell me more
about the soul of this city
than any guidebook could.

Is it a woman or úlfur
that howls at a low-hanging moon?
Whose strands of hair
could strangle the sea so blue?

Inside the Stofan Café,
someone quotes Ingunn Snædal:
“I tattoo an anchor on your back
you sink to the bottom.”

I wish I had written those lines.
Wish I had gotten inked.
Perhaps a tiny puffin secured to my ankle.
Now it’s too late.

I intend to bring a few lava rocks
back where I came from,
tucked inside the pockets of my bones,
till Nature whispers in my ear.

She can no longer send us souvenirs—
from such a manhandled and fragmenting world.
Even Iceland has been touched.
I will be the one “designed to stay” behind.


Note: Phrases in quotation marks indicate actual lines from Emily Dickinson’s poetry (and two lines by Icelandic poet Ingunn Snædal in the fifth to last stanza).

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