Winter Islands

by Lisl Zlitni


Now all the water is still, at rest,
blue ice near the banks where we met
briefly in the shadow of the volcano.
Embracing its heat, you precede us,
alongside Hornklofi, you precede us.
By day you walk with the gods
and we walk briefly in the shadow.

Even the waterfalls throw themselves
on over us, bits of bright ice, sweeps
of white quilts which shall soothe in us
our hearts’ doubts, and cleanse
the workday’s dirt from our fine skins.
Our souls sweep through one another,
embraced as we are by soaring winds.

For nine days we wandered; never once would
night-wolves under glistening frost upset
rock fires over smooth summer lava.
Never did darkened whispers deceive you,
you of the fair hair. Streaks of dawn
put shadows on your silent landscape
where blankets of fog subdued your light.

Your light, as when we were warring tribes,
when we were but roaring children,
took open your care on longish journeys;
you wander, tramping through fjords
cut off from us within winter islands.

Leaves on high walls, those winter islands
could not stop flora from scaling with you,
of fair hair and silent brooding eyes.
No skald could be as smooth, lie with the sea
as you traipse under the stars with daylight
breaking, seagulls squawking, skimming
in groups of one hundred or more.

Mournful fog subdued you; you were kind,
you in the cool, green ocean, as I stood
on the edge between night, between day,
the vast, white glacial world in which I was
but a mere speck, a contemplation.
The sun met you, Alsvid brought it to you;
we rested a moment in giants’ arms.

Those giants’ arms cradled us, we slept
like infants for months; years the rocks
had taken to be carved from running
waters, and when we awoke we bathed
in these waters, and our bodies were caressed
with pearls from the sun, to soothe
the blows of the cold, angry water.

Then the sun spread warm arms around us;
beneath us also the cold was no longer there;
her comely smile re-assured me
that our path was open, the rocks would melt away
upon the touch from our feet
as we set our steps upon them;
we would walk there with ease.

During this day we were fine; not a cloud
was permitted to roam unheeded.
We raced on the waterways and laughed
like elfin children, untamed ones
who shouted obscenities to Echo.
She had no choice but to repeat them:
alone as she was, she wept sorely.

The moon’s reflection on the still surface
of the lake gave me pause to reflect.
Meaning dreaming, our arteries pulsating
day and night over the same coarse
rocks; sands straining purity of one,
draining the other. I came to, saw
the water rippling, and grew alarmed.

Laughing at all schemes, you scaled mountains
to deride them; when you reached the plateau,
looking down, all to be seen was the clear
blue ocean: visions of serenity.
Inside, the surface was smooth, not a
ripple, not a wave; with great wishes,
with sore glee you dove down into it.

For hours I shuddered, rested near the shore;
in each hour I swore I could see your image;
you swayed above me. I would see empty clouds;
you were near them and I thought you were ecstatic.
I ran for the darkness and was sheltered
by Thought; under a precipice I stayed.

I did not weep; I was too stunned for it.
I was as well more solid for my wounds.
My thirst was abrasive; with the waves
roaring below me, I could not fathom
how light would make its way here.
No longer would the sun shine in this grave,
forbidding place. I swept myself up,
and my howling shriek made the shadows tremble.

Across the frozen plain clouds gathered
patiently; their moment would come, when rain
would sweep over one hundred miles and
beyond; ferocious, jagged strips of light
would slash through the sky, piercing arrays
to sky tears; I thought these storms would not subside.

After hours of such moodiness I felt
fingers touching me, laying hands on me.
Branches from trees, swaying to and fro,
gently soothing; soft winds drying my
frozen face, trees watching under
silent stars, open land lined with crystals.

Blackened sky streaked with bits of rage, here
growing shallow with mauve, wanting to weep,
somehow sensing futility. If it wonders,
still this great expanse is aware that,
despite its glorious view to the
world, Earth will never expose itself.

What have we done — I done? — to so anger
the gods who carried us that swiftly
from marsh to earth, all the while wiping
our mouths like such babies from the pram,
settled in our swaddling blankets.
I wondered if they would rip them from us
to reveal our vulnerable, fine skins.

Everyone is alone; shadows stalk us.
Beneath the churning, the rumbling,
I heard what could only have been
the waking of this volcano from its sleep.
We had disturbed it, awoken
that great, untamed pet of our gods;
soon we shall know the musings of sorrow.

Once again, I heard the churning inside.
This volcano was active, was fully aroused.
My bones shook; there I stood so
defiantly on the edge looking down.
With glee and horror I felt its heat,
bubbling with fury, run on my arms;
such heat persuaded me to move away.

But I saw the water ripple, the level lessen.
I wanted to leap to its famished, ravenous heat,
throw jagged rocks at gentle stars.
I wanted only to ruin everything
that threatened you. As I am so unfair,
so false, I will fall in to the crater.

The blackened sky pierced me; I fell in
with shadows; but you, you stood
above everything: statues fashioned from snow,
carved ice to suit you. When the gods
took pity on you and certainly
would have welcomed you to their arms,
you leapt forth with boldness in your heart.

Now all the water is still, at rest;
blue ice near the banks where we meet
briefly in the shadow of the volcano.
Embracing its heat, you precede us;
alongside Hornklofi you precede us.
By day you walk in with the gods;
here we walk briefly with the shadow.

When the fragile ripples of the water
have settled down, and the eyes of the sun
gaze warmly over you, beaming at
your gleaming body, enraptured by such silent awe,
her warm embrace around us, I walk
near the shoreline, envisioning you held
to the very heart of silent Freya.


Copyright © 2015 by Lisl Zlitni

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