The Snow Poets’ Saga

I just returned from the Icelandic Writers Retreat. Aside from the amazing workshops with Barbara Kingsolver, Adam Gopnik, and Taiye Selasi; the soaks in the natural hot tubs around the city; the sweetness of the nut bread at the breakfast buffet; and the Saga Museum; the highlight was the day we got stuck in the snow on a literary tour of Iceland with poet Ari Trausti Guðmundsson as our guide. I wrote this poem about the experience, in the spirit of another Icelandic writer, the wondrous Sjón, who taught us that “each sentence an Icelandic novelist writes is a response to a sentence in the sagas.” This is my humble response to the sagas, the retreat, and the writers on bus #2.

The Snow Poets’ Saga

“Writing is a physical act.” –Adam Gopnik

Between the poet’s black house on the jagged field of lava
And the steaming waters of the blue lagoon
One hundred thick yards of snow
Blocks the road beside the fishy sea

Two small cars face each other, skew and stuck
Dozens of distinct plans freeze behind them in two long lines
A time and a half shift starting at the factory in eighteen minutes
A first birthday party in town
An old friend from Denmark waiting at the airport
And fifty thirsty writers on a bus dreaming of a Reykjavik pub

But at this narrow point of space and time
The exact angle of the hillside slope
The specific speed of the late afternoon wind
The precise level of the dip in the road
Create a deadlock between North and South

Forward motion, impossible
Backward motion, impossible
All progress halted by the pagan power of the storm
And the absence of a countervailing power

In this frozen place
What can crack the ice?

Not the frantic opening and closing of car doors
Not the synchronized sparks that blaze inside the engines
Not the spinning of black tires on the deep layer of whiteness

In this frozen place
What can crack the ice?

On the bus, each writer bubbles ideas beneath the surface
Private thoughts of half introverted souls

Look up, writers, says the voice of the long dead poet from the black house
They look up
They look at each other
And the bubbles of ideas merge
Reverse gravity drives them up, pushing on streaming swirls of thought
As more glances cross the aisles
The silent pressure builds
Then the geyser
The power to crack the universe back to movement:

Organize, says the novelist
Push, says the poet
Open the door, says the essayist
Tie the boots, zip the coats, tighten the scarves

Into the wind white world the writers pour
Align their shoulders against the steel
Dig their boots into the thick cream of snow
And push
And push again
Until the gears engage
and the tires find the hard place beneath the snow
Time, and cars, move forward again

The snow poets return to the bus
Cheeks tingle
Fingers buzz
Pictures in small devices slip into winter pockets

Pictures that, far beyond this bus, far beyond this wildly winded day, far beyond the black and white seas at the edge of this road, far beyond this island of ice
Will remind them
When the world becomes a frozen place
Words can make things move
Writers can make things move


About Zahara Heckscher

Writer, educator, social justice advocate. Co-author of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas (Penguin, 2002) and forthcoming Volunteer Travel Reimagined: The Learning Service Guide. Instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD and co-inventor of The Poetry Game. Mom, wife, cancer thriver, advocate for a world of justice.
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2 Responses to The Snow Poets’ Saga

  1. Roz Timberg says:

    Zahara. I would love to see a book of your poems. Roz

  2. Patti-Kay Hamilton says:

    Zahara. This is lovely. I’m only sorry we didn’t get to hear you read it aloud.

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