Cold Poems for Colder Days

My illustration of It Is Born by Pablo Neruda:



The Icelandic elders
built their church

from the body of a whale
thrown from the sea

by god’s thunder.
From the green deep

she brought icebergs
and plankton tattooes

to mark her basalt walls
with sacred text.

From her bones
they built the organ,

to sigh its krill-song
to her sisters in the bay.

From her skin
they wove carpets,

so fine and sea-blue
that when the sun shines

an ocean moves
among those who pray,

on their feet,
to the god of sailors –

stranded, now,
on his melting inland sea.

From her oil they made
seven lamps that will burn

until the end of days
when the chosen will file

between her ribs,
into her belly

and be carried back
to the glacier’s heart,

to their sailor god,
to swim,

as the last ice melts,
depths uncharted.

~Jessica Traynor


Jessica Traynor is a poet and dramaturge from Dublin and her first collection of poems Liffey Swim, was recently published this past fall. She actually blogs here on WordPress and does a fascinating interview about her collection and its creation on RTE Radio. The interview includes a reading of the title poem and another called Sineater. She also goes into central some themes which pull her body of poetry together, one being psychogeography. Her book’s title comes from the Liffey River which flows through Dublin. As she jokes, she grew up on the river, and oftentimes in it.

I think this idea of psychogeography appears in her poem Hallgrímskirkja as well. Her words around grounded in a very specific place, but speak across time and space. While writing in Ireland, Traynor summons stories of a distant Iceland. In turn, her story still has meaning for me here in New Hampshire, 2,500 miles across the Atlantic ocean.

On a stark and cold winter day (here in New Hampshire the thermometer’s hovering near zero fahrenheit), there’s something about this poem that makes it ring even more true. When I read it I enter a world where I am surrounded by quiet icey blue colors, and whale calls echoing in cavernous church halls. It reminds me of my connection to animals and the earth which gets easily buried when the cold makes staying outside for more than and hour or two difficult.

A quick Google search of Hallgrímskirkja revealed that Treynor may write of a this church which goes by the same name and is located on the coast of Iceland.

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