UNSTABLE VERBAL CONTAINERS ADDRESSING THE INSTABILITY OF HUMAN INTERACTIONS IN ICELAND BY RICH
I grew up where the poster-child the tourists expect wears
snow-white barrettes in silky black hair, mukluks and a hooded sweatshirt
over so many layers it makes you look like a polar bear. Midnight doesnít
happen the way it does in movies but takes weeks to get here and stays
just as long. The path to Grandmaís house involves generations and seems
to include humanityís deepest failures, which lurk like icebergs broken
loose by global warming. The buildings are green because the landscape
is not. Isolation is a way of life, so we share it. We drink too much because
alcohol doesnít freeze as easily as water. We worry about the same things
you do, but with a lot more space between. But even here, love seems to
slip its noose and escape into the wilderness. Even here, people get lost
following it. Aliens or Elvis impersonators can still happen to you, but
most of us know enough to joke about it a little more seriously than they
do down below. Usable space is limited, so we have rules about bragging,
spitting and trying to share your loneliness, although itís another rule
not to talk about what the rules are. Monogamy is rare and beautiful, textured
in lengthy reflections, and displays itself like a beautiful and fluctuating
light over the vast tundra of unfaithfulness. The only remedies for depression
that actually work are dancing in your own darkness and displaying a new
growth of fur. Even depression is territorial here. Weíre both religious
and fatalistic here. When the wind stops, thatís God. We like to talk about
nearly everything, including our addictions, which keep taking on new permutations,
the talk shows on the radio drink it up, while we listen, drinking up the
vast distances between us in a huge land filled with tiny rooms that contain
us too well, drinking in every commonplace desperate word of someone elseís
despair they can spill, life not yet full enough to break but ready to
announce its confusions in malnourished detail.
Every couple of weeks, thereís a hard new growth on my skin. I cut each
of them off, dry them flat, and use them to glue in place the stool I have
that keeps me anchored when I spill my dreams trying to stay awake for
no good reason.
I am not offering a gift of tundra blossoms or enough mistaken migration
dreams to nervously imitate the heavens. Nor am I offering anxious new
heroes of the bright icy cellar I live in. I have no ecstatic children
dancing in my wet grass. I am not offering the hidden bank accounts of
green strangers. I am not offering skin brushing and whispers, rustling
leaves and nuanced rivulets.
Iím not a child of any one or any thing famous, not even the more guarded
variety we have here. Iím not sure there is a great deal of joy I will
be required to participate in. Iím easy enough to find inside all my posturing.
Iím fond of clouds that donít gang up on me, and creatures with red fur,
and especially trees ĖĖ beautiful, green, sparkling in the sun and best
of all, indifferent.
Yesterday I was not really here. ďNot all there,Ē as they say, although
there always means here. Itís a confusion suitable to the condition. Someone
I couldnít remember even asked me if I had died yet. They probably thought
it was a joke, but I thought about it and worried it, as many of us do
here. A lot. That particular moth is not the welcome dusty brown of an
innocent road to August. Neither do these words change anything you will
find along the way. What light there is in the back room of these clouds
only illuminates the dust that mocks our progress. And that is the tenor
of the moment in which Ragnor now reclines, weeping. He has become a fixture
of our sadness that we can turn over to gossip. In this version of my life,
for example, there were some bees in the fountain. They were floating,
but I could tell they didnít know they were floating. The fountain has
water, but it doesnít really work. I do, but not inside all of the parts.
Ragnor accepts this from me, and I can go on without it. Not a scapegoat
exactly, but a collector of the unnecessary excesses that misdirect us.
Someone makes me do these things. It does not feel as if I choose them.
Maybe itís me that does this, maybe itís not. Perhaps I just left myself
a temporary heaven in the odor of a ripe meadow and tried to live there
too long. I was on my way to a changed season. I was translating poems
from a language I didnít know. I could have been on the edge of melting,
on the edge of my edge. I was trying to live on a diet of ramís balls and
chutney. I was carrying a pocketful of beetles to a lecture on the relativity
of freedom. I thought I was developing my own territory, but I wasnít.
I just had a new way of looking at an old problem.
Now Iím carrying my inner child to safety too quickly, and Iím running
into the future. Itís good to be able to say these things, Iíll agree,
but itís not enough.
My confidence has been visiting strangers.
If the sun had sunk, as it appeared to, into the ocean, the water would
have quit talking the way it does, would have risen, confused, with no
source in the empty sky for its ideas about levitation, and circled like
a vast amorphous airplane with a destination that wasnít there anymore,
and it would have considered the moon and possibly certain stars that had
been toying with its affections each night in the glassy mirrors of the
few calm moments and hiding behind clouds until the mood was right for
further gestures of restrained generosity and tiny bits of glitter.
Where the stars end in the sky, and the sky invites you in, thereís
a cautious thread whispering you too could be left behind. Any part of
you placed in that dark space might burn up there. And the remainder of
that life would just wait, content with itself. Streaming out all over
My parents have identified me now. It took 35 years. They carry swords
and pens and unnecessary burdens and tiny little icicles of grief and joy,
and they drink Juicy Juice and speak like dictionaries. I like to watch
them and stay close enough to be confused with a real son.
You could see mountains, and you could see windmills, if you didnít
look too hard. The windmills are called turbines and replace the need for
flowing water to generate electricity in a land where everything, even
water, stops so long each year. But we donít actually stop. We just try
harder to discover rest. And mostly fail. Rest is not a natural state.
Our animals are not really animals but a great heavy version of swimwear.
You can wear them all winter long, which is a different kind of lake we
live in. Everything feels underwater for that time which is most of each
year and cold, and the animals help us move through it. They offer their
skins like swimsuits to keep us separate from the lake, which falls down
upon us much of the time. We walk along the lakeís bottom as if we werenít
swimming, wearing their skins. No one should be expected to go on with
so few indulgences, but everyone wanted the woman I wish to speak of at
the bottom of the lake before fate, or carelessness, disfigured her and
gave to her alone what we all had envied. This is one of several beautiful
confusions I enjoy living with.
I used to live in that shirt, the one with you applied, talking the
legs and cheese of it from down below, where you had fled. ĎTwas a wee
misplacement indeed, but I didnít forget it.
Or was it a beautiful disaster, an ordinary innocence complete thereafter?
Iíve been taking out my familyís trash. They will not be living here
in these words any more than necessary, at least not directly, because
my life doesnít need to be about them anymore. If Iíve fallen from grace
with my sources, Iíll have to drag them out of their plastic new age containers
to reveal the heaven from which they came. Level their skies that I may
walk upon them on the way to elsewhere.
Suddenly in the endless dusk the swallows are done weaving the air,
but I am not done now with my latest fear, and night has begun to discuss
my absence, as if it were only tonightís distraction that keeps me and
my absence from action.
Donít leave your red handkerchief on the picnic table. Thereís a conversation
there and you canít ignore it. It wonít save the ants from public displays
of aggression, some of them bright enough to be a tiny piece of the handkerchief,
which lingers at the back of your mind. It may feel like something important,
if you donít remember. Like your family.
Itís time to release the silence thatís been holding the air. What you
leave behind spreads out and goes looking. Itís waiting for the moment
after you reach the goatís tether. Itís waiting for the moment you almost
remember the red handkerchief. Itís waiting for the moment you think about
only the ant.
Arenít you going to relax your straw hat? Summer is a single long day.
Arenít you going to consider the absence of conversation? Arenít you going
to engage the silence with entertaining misperceptions?
The goat will listen and the ants arenít going to stop for you anyway.
In the ditch beyond the picnic table, thereís a marsh bird standing
on one leg, drawing back the distance weíve been gazing into so often,
my thoughts and I, since I accepted that my arrival here would not make
him abandon his vigil. And what of mine? Can I gather in as much, hold
my undisturbed place without planning the next alteration of the self-centered
Thoughts darting like unsuspecting minnows, I wait for his own purpose
to alter him.
She turned his face towards her and caressed it. It was not an attractive
thing to see. The intimacy too rich and painful. No one loved her with
This world will grow a little older while they love.
1) a frozen Bolshevik still singing to his mother
2) the resonance created by tearing apart and melting the horn of your
loverís blue plastic tuba
3) the sudden recognition of a diplomat admiring the cockroach he just
removed from your fatherís ear canal
4) the burping of a baby polar bear inside a bamboo-lined echo chamber
The singing, of course, was equally unattractive, and the compliments were
radically underwhelming. The guests too were delightfully false. Everything
was going so well I began to think I was having a good time.
If I was not sick, I should have been.
The elders, meanwhile, were still collecting doorknobs. I see that you
too are enjoying your new swimwear.
Uncle Jakov soon landed on an island of big hair named Abigail. It was
inevitable. He shifted his weight to his brotherís other foot. Uncle Jakov
was building a leg table and shouting for more legs. The clothes he lived
in on the island had not been acquired by legitimate means. They needed
to find another place to live. In tatters they carried Uncle Jakov to the
next landing platform, which was strewn with wine bottles and baby cigar
Abigail was quickly ejected from the cockpit.
Jakovís current box of words contains:
Next to it, a shinier box containing:
Each word was nestled in its paper wrapper like a chocolate in a gift selection,
each combination of sounds ready to open on the tongue of Jakov. There
are a few surprises here, like the way incarceration contains the slice
of a razor and the way manikin has nearly grown breasts since it was placed
in the box. Thereís an odd lingering odor from the year after his mother
died, a small paper room forming around it, which is not this room with
the words in it, but a room within the room of the idea of the box, with
a bed and some childrenís books and the altered taste of something too
hot that makes your taste buds scurry home as if they had been spanked
The next box holds an undivided star left over from when the gifts had
tags and someone you cared about spilled the name of each future from its
As I was telling the impatient bees, (because the sound of a sincere
voice calms them) I donít mind if the righteous heroes die right along
with the evil villains, as long as we get a little silence after the moaning
and wailing, before the next bundle of indignations is trotted out of the
closet and begins to fight back, demanding more heroes to make them famous.
This is what causes the internal limbs to strike each other and emit bloodlike
sparks that can cause blindness and an inability to comprehend sports utility
Ragnorís partially completed lecture on tundra frog ethics slips once
more to the surface of his wandering thoughts, and a box of words all at
once releases. I have to put them in order if I expect to ever leave my
own thoughts about Ragnor. It must have something to do with eggs.
Let us now fly quickly to the west through several time zones so as
to arrive before we left. Itís a little like the way a cowís lunch can
return after its dinner. Just as Abigail remembered somebody else and told
somebody about it and they listened, but it wasnít about her, oh no, it
wasnít about her. If you put your ear to its ear, you can hear surgeons
sharpening their reports with weasel juice and it may frighten you. Or
maybe instead I could open a gun store with one of those bubblegum dispensers
right next to the counter and a box of erasers in the waiting area. These
are but a few of the many generous examples of the ways in which science
has helped to solve insurmountable problems in the far north. Now make
a list of the Problems you have solved today in your own life. Try to include
something coincident with Abigailís desperate need to marry a philosopher
disguised as a speech teacher.
The Ingredients in an Icelandic Thinly Sliced Carrot Casserole:
1) a cricket trying to sneak a rabbit past a coyote
2) a rumor about a movie never actually made in which children are seen
creating and producing their own movie with miniature wooden animals, fanciful
props, brightly costumed actors, scenes of toys coming to life, and Chaplinesque
parodies of Icelandic political figures
3) the embracing of an oyster with insufficient fervor
4) foraging goats drifting like big seabirds across the snow-covered
The clouds indicate the direction of the tribeís migration only when the
texture appears feather-like and can be seen to move slower than our understanding
Youíre here now. Next time, you leave. At this moment I intend to be
In the swamps lives the reliquary, a thin burrowing mammal capable of
surviving long periods without breathing and highly resistant to gasses.
The creature never retreats and stops its forward progress only to sleep,
which it does infrequently. Recently, specimens have been discovered inside
murdered tribesmen with intestinal strings, strangely coated with an organic
lubricant, which appear to have been periodically knotted, perhaps for
the simulation of the debilitating digestive processes sometimes described
in prescriptions found tied to their simulated tails with alligator sinew
by native witch doctors. Such manifestations are discovered when the (dead)
patient arrives at the now relatively (an autopsy is sometimes performed)
useless medical facility.
Undocumented Icelandic Sex Myths:
1) The boyís hands were discussing cable TV with her geraniums.
2) A glacier sleeps in the pleasure pocket, secret as a snakeís feet.
3) All the way out. Let me be there. Come Ďere, ya lug.
4) Alpha sled dogs with too many crew members.
5) Mousequilting as a native craft and not an art form.
6) The uncertain commitments of smoothly worn sled runners.
Ragnor should have told you about milk light sprawled like a deep welcome,
slippery in the tempted eyes. Fresh blankets have been arriving slowly
from the cloud laundry. Your three children appear to be waiting, two boys
like beetles, and the rebellious one, Graciela, a potato bug.
That might have been when Jakov appeared to be a man of such greatness
no one could touch him, a man who fell because no one could touch him.
So I ran up to Graciela and I punched her in the tiny eyebrow. Ah but
Love, I said, didnít you know that I am dying?
The name of Yes means turned and telling. I remembered the yet, aired
the rooftops and fell upon at least one blue. Upbraided portions of her,
were talking, and then below, and with talking weíd still know something
about it. Impossibly, the dust clouded the handís voyeuristic lens. The
random thoughts of a fevered mind began raining the kind of pain that ends
in the mirror.
The sky was still there, trying to say something we werenít even listening
to, the clouds spitting gently, instincts reaching for a fat hat or a black
wing, a stunned bat failing to close again.
Stuck with the clawed handle.
The Diligent Clock Only Hatches Once Per Cycle:
1) I walked with shovelfeet and fondled the load between my
2) I began washing the watching stones.
3) The sun is not a country in the relative teacup.
4) A golden yellow wine with a hint of mead equals three seconds or
one complete sentence.
When I remember the fever of hay, my childhood coughs. Its brief summer
eyes run down to the ground by drops.
Walking her fingers across the cool rivets of his warm jeans does not
immediately result in teardrops. The clairvoyant air says more. Says youíre
not done yet.
The older white families were still offered the opportunity to darken
their brows in the blessings exhaled through the broken windows of the
smoke-filled dwellings as they purified in the night air. This allowed
the family members to portray deepĖthinking, hard-working ancestors in
the numerous pageants of the time. Elders with darkened brows proved unexpectedly
adept at marketing chewing gum. Enhancement of the darkened brows with
ash from the remains of prematurely terminated plumbing reversal executives
was used to signal an invitation to the ritual ceremony known as Macaroni,
after the 18th century inventor of propulsive gastritis.
Funerals are still awarded, selectively, to pet-ornamented expiration
performers. The awardees are stood to rest alongside poles capped by the
ornaments from their performances. Vertical assignation is assisted by
embalming with a fluid derived from the expulsions of sea cucumbers in
a variety of colorful and highly visible hardeners that allow visitors
to study the surprisingly varied circulatory systems of the chosen. Moss
grows on the rear of these structures since they are traditionally mounted
facing south and one may picnic by leaning against them in the warmer months,
when shade is more desirable. It has been falsely rumored that these vertical
assignations are currently being studied, at a great distance, by the Celestial
Passions Observatory, and this has served to reduce the incidence of used
birth control devices formerly found with greater frequency at this popular
Salted Hag, Carried About in Large Blue Palanquins:
1) In countries still governed by weather, chunks of an alien
God land in the plowed fields, where broccoli and cauliflower have been
planting a greener variety of takeover since the sun, once again, came
up. If the natives have noticed, theyíre afraid to say so. Let them live
among us for a while and then weíll see.
2) What did these feathers actually transcend?
3) Are the rabbitís feet unworthy of its warm socks?
During the Festival of St. Wolfís celebration dinner, the liquid bridge
arrives at the throat, and the roof of oneís thinking frequently becomes
a patchwork of bright new mismatched tiles. The effigies, made by a caution
of disinterested carpenters, burn wildly and light the sky with an eerie
glow. Unfurling pods of blackbirds seem to be attacking the flames, but
this is only the escape of misperceptions, which have always arrived and
departed in small darkly feathered bodies. Men have not always been frightened
by them, but men have always felt their influence in their flanks. In this
way, men have always been horses and have always felt like chasing the
wind. The timing of the ceremony recognizes that this is particularly true
as the lights to the north begin their long display of abandon and sequestered
If the son knew his father was still breathing, he would try to learn
not to use so much air. He would throttle his own breathing, and he would
fail, sailing desireís strange filial atmosphere, betrayed by his own gifted
A stack of dreams can often be found piled up like rags on the railway
siding. Each summer the damaged ones, and there are many, must be removed
and sent to warmer climates, where their burdens of ice dust can be lifted
by offshore breezes arriving from the islands of acceptance. Since they
do not know they will not be returning, they still hold inside them cold
memories useful in the ponderous wealth of the tropics.
Jakov took no umbrage at the surprisingly incessant rain, and he just
kept moving on. He wasnít about to get no bugs between his toes. He used
to say he was born to be lucky, but his family says it was more like lucky
to be born.
Jakov stilled and took his time observing the tiny vein of ants pulsing
over the dead skunk by the pathway to the river. He had just come from
visiting several exhausted houses. He had a keyring larger than a jailerís
in a country without many doors. As usual, the wind had been gossiping
house to house.
Delayed Adolescence Conveyor Units:
1) Young fat-embellished girls or boys, used for their increased
warmth and dense cunning to protect their owners from predatory Maritals,
may be applied to the underside of the tongue for enhanced absorption for
nearly everything of value to the imagination.
2) The location of greatest repose, is known to hum softly if treated
with great respect.
3) I tell them what I know, which is very little, much like an ear preserved
in amber liquid.
4) Thereís something underneath, and I go there. I always do.
I closed my eyes and said, ďDonít you want to touch me with them?Ē of course
I did. But I didnít.
I was in my own house. I wasnít sleeping, but I wasnít awake either.
I knew trouble meant me.
I knew me meant something I didnít understand.
Symptoms of Indigenous Bulbtrotter Syndrome:
1) visions containing albino ice snakes with red eyes
2) the impulse behind Uncle Jakovís Bastard Cathedral/Unnecessary Casket
3) little daughters little piglets little mice dolls that confuse the
cat with verticality
4) the containment of the moment when a retarded fire limps across a
pile of leaves and falls in a bundle and turns inward
5) suicidal genius
I go all the way and stop, not knowing if ďfar enoughĒ is far enough.
Oblivious, devouring another air sandwich, the Scooter hadnít noticed
my interest. I have a license for wheels. I shake hands. I am available
for weather. I read a lot. When my sense of myself becomes unhoused, I
go to work more often. Sometimes Iím a perfume puffer for the holidays.
I spritz the customers with the latest holiday olfactory falsifications.
Because Iím nonviolent, I eat my own air sandwich with my eyes closed.
When Iím done, I watch the Scooter offering excuses to the unattached.
He seems to be gravitating towards the unspritzed. I have to chase him
to the other side.
The Light of Day Used as an Incendiary Device:
1) the right hesitations to suggest more than progress
2) a cloth of milk unfolding
3) a failure to join the croupiers union
4) chocolate and Brazilian coffee, a red velvet cake frosted white
I was talking to a local library farmer when Ragnorís sister, fat and groceried
in a Radio Flyer, careened out of her conveyance device and toppled Jakov
like he was a sack of rotting potatoes. Turned out the white dust she spilled
all over him wasnít flour, but bone dust. Finding that out scared him good
until she explained it was fertilizer for her roses.
Entertaining with Synthetic Meat:
1) his lost whistle and his tawny hair askew
2) quirky in my reach and too sudden
3) a graceful shiver of mane descends
4) each moment a capsule held in his fingers refusing to swallow him
I think there is something unbelievable growing in me, but I donít know
what it is. Sometimes I taste my fingers, and they taste like Iíve been
digging in the ground when I havenít been.
One thing Iíve noticed is the impartiality of air. Sometimes I donít
know where I live, and I like it there.
Once I looked up and saw a garden of stars I just knew I couldnít have
planted. Their nipples are lies and unnecessary.
We do not approach anything of real value directly. In this we are as
singular as nails, each primping for direction.
Not even God can say what God will do.
The Grass Skirt of Sir Edmund Hilary
1) There are no real mountains in Iceland.
2) The imaginary ones function as real ones.
3) The nonexistent mountains are important to commerce.
4) Commerce is important to vacationing explorers.
5) Vacationing explorers sometimes try to climb closer to God.
Estralita drove fast and the fenceposts began stuttering. Such a
beautiful incongruence she was, like a glass chainsaw. The mad, round,
clown-head attached to the nervous body slippering up and down, the whispers
of water shifting gears. It was an answer with the teeth of a spider.
Days later my loopy pleasures drove off. Better than yes, better than
I want you, it seems to say what I wanted with Estralita was so good it
scared me. There wasnít much else to say. Here and gone. Here and gone.
Now Iím not there where the heart rolls open but here where the open
The Residue of an Estralita:
1) an olfactory attraction which causes the addict to exceed
his capacity for exertion, can be considered an evasion of the realignment
which takes place beneath the surface of reality causing genius to suffer
2) the addition of any form of logic, fluid or gaseous, which has been
known to cause an explosion
You probably already understood that Jakov and Ragnorís sister would get
together. They havenít married, but the childís name is something more
than egg or table, something determinant, as in ďpotential capacityĒ threatening
ceiling tiles. It may take some time for the child to settle.
If I say I want you to agree to tremble, it may be because the smell
at the back of your neck is dangerous, and I have been too boyed under
by my directional mother. I know this is not a good attitude, but it serves
me well. Jakovís brother seems exceedingly jealous, however, and I have
little to say to him.
And so it had to be me that was listening, me that was suspended, me
that was the darkness, me that needed the wrong answer.
I knew what to say, and I didnít say it, and I waited for you to stop
A Vacant Tendency to Sing:
1) fat little bridges all lined up like dried hot dogs
2) grandmother blooming wildly into her mumu
3) any melodic variation of blubbering like a fat monsoon
4) forklifting pallets of kim chi
5) a broad green plastic with limited adhesion
6) theoretical testicular diamonds
7) the mayor of The City of Red Balloons
8) one of several different occurrences of the desire to open one mouth
In Scooterville, no one is allowed to eat in public, but defecation produces
great shouts of joy. When this restriction is combined with an Estralita,
the effect can be devastating, but temporary.
Members remaining flaccid were tattooed with maps of their objectives.
Men attempting to exhaust their sexual interests were referred to as cartographies.
Divested of garments, the vehicle was available for nautical excursions
and kite training. When tethered with lightĖweight teasing, it becomes
more affectionately attached.
Unvisited locations are rare enough to warrant special mention in the
Scooterville Book of Lessons, which can be found only where the vehicle
has not yet traveled. The thrusting of the vehicleís engine must be silenced
in order to discover the meaning of the lesson, which required its use.
Speaking of the lesson in occupied locations generally elicits spontaneous
perspiration with a slightly nutty flavor and leads to misunderstanding.
Home-schooled screeners have proven ineffective in identifying the transgressors.
The unscheduled visitations of circular reasoning reported by retired
cartographies have complicated the documentation of failed objectives.
The principal of rotational excellence has been offered as a corollary
but remains uncorroborated. Illicit vehicles with their mufflers removed
have been recently located in unmapped territories by sensitized cartographers.
Training continues but has been limited by the availability of unmapped
The Scooterville Institute of Blood and Copper:
1) a rental agency that rents grandparents, children, missing
persons, and invalids with weekly specials
2) the way the sky was folded over and the dairy-o all aslumber with
3) a cluster of aggressively clichéd gay cowboys lip-synching
Broadway show tunes
4) to go this way otherwise (study of)
5) I parked the refrigerator on Jakovís useless land, kept things cold
6) as if a mudhen and a rat had grown more than friendly (study of)
7) the artificial ever-after
Thereís usually a little more than I know in what I said.
I got over it. But the idea was so tiny, every time I touched it, it
First life had a few more trick questions like, ďCould I imagine wanting
I didnít know which answer was the shallow answer.
Trying Not to Wake a Dead Man (study of):
1) the chef offering hunger as an appetizer
2) a thorn, a white dress, a bare foot
3) the politics of truth, sorrow, and the loneliness of heroes
4) a theoretical discussion interrupted by domestic events
5) a moon tan
6) a time set aside for losing track of justifications
A tree, a tree, a fence, and a tree. A book with no words. Another tree.
A street like an empty shirtsleeve, where I keep finding myself looking
like someone I forget. Greeting myself with a gentle viscous nod.
The color of the secret beneath my fingernail. Blue light in the misplaced
A visit from the smalls, and the silence said what I wanted to hear.
No one talks about it.
It happened somewhere else. It happened everywhere else. A child wading,
holding her shoes as if they contained the rest of her life.
I got over it. But that idea was so tiny, every time I touched it, it
I wasnít even there to listen to myself.
After you went home, we still talked about paradise.