I. The sky in Akureyri

in July is high and broad,
with here and there a dome of cloud
cocked like a hat that doesn’t fit.

Nothing can put a cap on it,
this light that lasts all night,
even when the long, elliptic sun,

a low plane circling for an open
runway, nearly lands—
but throwing up its hands, ascends

by slow degrees again.
After a while, though every motion
tends to the horizontal, what

you’re hoping for isn’t sundown but
rainfall: something to precipitate
the end of a relentless,

restless Paradise.
Time an eternity of space . . .
Time watching as dark, overblown

clouds hold their breath all day, then
drily fly away; time beaten thin
enough it may have passed

entirely into mist.
When at last the first
cloud dissolves (a tablet

in its own water), it’s like a thought,
whose moving parts are discrete, caught
in the murky downpour of feeling.

But this is not the end. Trailing
behind with its blanket, failing
to see what can’t be done, the sun

resumes that setting—or sitting—on
a fine, pink line it’s drawn
to divide today from tomorrow.

 

II. The dark in Reykjavik

in December is far
from monolithic—not
a block of static blackness, but
an inky, effervescent

potion ever
carbonated by the dots
of thousands of electric lights.
The stars are burning

ceaselessly somewhere, and here
you remember that: orderly
stacks of them, floor by floor.
And neon at eleven in

the morning makes
everything you’ve done so far
(breakfast, getting dressed) appear
precocious, blazoned triumph—

trumpeted, as well, by twin
high beams turning corners for
the dark at the end of their tunnels; or
by inverted funnels thrown

from a line of streetlamps.
Not monolithic, no, and yet
come noon, when, like the spangled velvet
drape the poet speaks of, night

parts (a space enough
to poke your face through; a spotlit
hour or two a playwright might
illuminate the limits of

our life in), gratitude
rises up. Even for that wall-to-wall
cloud rolled across the sky, as dull
and sullen as a pearl,

whose muffled glow
forecasts another kind. Not sun
shine’s diamond, and meant more to be seen
than see by; obscurity

dressed in white;
sub-zero understudy flown in from
everywhere at once—in sum:
snow filling in for light.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 9 Number 9, on page 40
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