"On Meeting Kari Solmundarson of Burnt Njal on a Ghost Ship"
(first published in Nonbinary Review)
Sailing in the direction of remembrance
with a slight list towards grief, I reel
on the waves of loss after loss, my own house
haunted by a lack so black I can feel it,
I can't not see the wet inking of the floor
that unforms the misshape of a imperson.
An inkswell shadow in the curve of the blue
leads me across the long whale road,
a cryptid I follow for no reason except I am
trying to get further from myself.
When on the horizon I saw something approaching.
When doesn't a figure coming over the horizon
not mean something? When doesn't it change
a shape into a line. You can look towards the ends
but never directly at the ends themselves.
This lean figure was another boat, furious
serpentine wood creaking out how it missed
being a tree, how it would be again if it could.
A man stood at the prow, wearing a grimace
more real than he was, he just shade and memory
...of a fire that could have quelled the ocean
...of a son burnt alive in a bed, little finger crumbling to ash
...of brothers and brothers and brothers
...of poetry backdropping murder but it isn't murder
is it? When it's done under the sun,
or the false sun of burning thatch.
Too bad it's an ending all the same.
And other people get poets, tall men in black spitting verses
at the sky, guiding them through. I get a viking with regret,
a ghost whose hands are red with mistakes and raven wine.
Kari, he said his name was, from some story
far from forming a line, but a scattered graph
of blood on new linen. A story for new poets
to trace their own constellations across.
To write their own kennings, to open their own mountains
for their own dead men, Shasta and Sugar Loaf,
where I could see fathers and brothers and sons walk forward.
But they won't, they would walk back in, Kari tells me.
As I daydream of a trick or grift where I don't have to let go.
He says 'as if there are any tricks, instead of the hard lifting,
the hauling anchor, the pushing off.'
Somewhere under the mantle my father
cradles Kari's son. There are no embers,
but cool plants bioluminescing their way.
And we the living can do nothing but raise anchor.
Go, and go again in the plain of puffins, the swan-bench
that is the same in every direction because we don't
see our end til it goes up in a pile of chickweed,
the fall down the mountain, a spear, a failed organ.
And on the way 'forgive', Kari tells me, my guide my brother-
Ourselves as much as any other.