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Poems and Features

Icelandic Journal Miles Burrows

From Isafjord we came to Thingeyri, The water grey as a knife, Skuli so drunk he can’t walk. But I help him. The landlady shows me the guest book, The names of the English nineteen-year-olds. I see the juvenile handwriting ‘God help us all! We need it!’ The sketch of the boat. She heard their voices on the radio As the ship was going down. It still upset her. Maybe I would take this page and give it to their parents Back in England. I didn’t look too keen And she said it was all a long time ago Their addresses may have changed And anyway it was better to leave it now.

‘They used to call me mother,’ Touching me lightly as she puts out more food. The grey hulk lies still in the grey water Like something out of an old newsreel. Skuli says when he went to Greenland The drinking water froze solid in the tank. He’s saving to go to University. The snow falls dreamily in its paperweight. The croak of a raven echoes across the fjord. The water gleams black and purple as steel. Icelandic humour is like the humour of Leeds. On the snow-covered shore, a few sheep and hens. A sheep is picking at a piece of seaweed. No lifeboat, though there is a place for one on the deck.

On shore, a half-built swimming pool, and a graveyard. A little grove of trees about the graves. Christmas trees have difficulty surviving And grow up with half a side missing. The village is a church and two colossal oil drums. A woman is hanging washing up to dry With a couple of fish, in the sepia daylight. At table, the mariners are dumb. Pallid, silent, they have seen too much, Done too much, had too much done to them. Without energy to switch on the dance music They have less to say than the ravens, Snort at each other as if through gills And are feasted by the grieving landlady.

They sit by the plastic roses Speechless as if coming from a traffic accident. She still hears the voices of the drowning And touches us to make sure we are real. Upstairs the bedroom rocks, buffeted by the wind. A heavy picture of fruit, Christ knocking at the door. In Isafjord they tried to get people to dream With a lottery of tickets to the Canary Islands. Bronzed people smiling in winter sunlight, A woman sits in a huge straw sunhat But tickets for the lottery are slow to sell. Where the snow drops into a black sea The ravens are large as dogs And the sea blue-black as a six-day growth of beard.

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