Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

Emergency Poetry

 

 

By Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir
(Icelandic Literature)
Translated by Kristín Viðarsdóttir

Sometimes I walk uphill and collect poems from the mountain spring
carry them home
in two buckets on a branch that I balance on my shoulders
turn back to the chores for a while but as soon as
the drought becomes unbearable I grab an old ladle my grandmother
left me and pour over me the flow of words from the buckets.

There is something physical in the obsession of writing poetry. At least I cannot find any other explanation for my writings than the one visible in the lines above. I wrote them a few years ago and keep them in a good place. In a poem you can say so many things difficult to express by other means (for example theories about why people write) and best to keep it at that.

I hope the mountain spring will never become dry.

When it comes to longer texts, it’s a different case – although not altogether. The fountain is the same but the journey is longer, sometimes through worlds that are quite foreign. But since the poems were described with a poem, it is fitting to describe the stories with a story:

When the tunnel under the fjord Hvalfjörður was opened on July 11, 1998, it was decided that there should be a public run in the tunnel before opening it to traffic for the first time. This was the day after the ferry to Akranes was permanently shut down and the focus was thus solely on this mysterious tunnel that had been constructed with nothing less than explosions underneath the bottom of the sea. The day before the run, I got the idea of joining the fun-runners, dug out some old sneakers, signed up and even got a t-shirt with a special logo to use for the run. I was by no means in physical shape for any challenge – could at the most cope with an evening stroll around my neighbourhood – but as I had never seen the path to be run I didn’t know what was ahead of me. No one had seen the inside of the tunnel before. And not least for this reason the whole thing excited me so.

We took a bus from Akranes around Hvalfjörður, the last time for many to drive that way. At the due time runners, cyclists and roller-bladers took their positions by the tunnel opening on the south side and started warming up. While doing that, a well dressed man held the opening speech and weaved into it some words of warning; the tunnel was longer than many people would imagine ... and so on, but people still kept warming up and smiled to one another. Then the gun went off.

The tunnel was spectacular. A bit dark while the pupils were adjusting, but wide and well constructed. The path went downhill and I started running right away, even if I had reminded myself earlier to use my sense and walk briskly in order not to give up. But no, I ran and ran, almost felt I was floating in the air on my air-padded shoes, and I didn’t care in the least how many people were in front of me and how many behind me, I was at my speed and I was having fun.

I ran until an unexpected stitch appeared in my side. Sadly, that happened only short into the run. I then switched to a brisk walk, still going downhill and I tried not to think about how far under the sea level I was. The stitch became milder but I could still feel it. I walked and walked. When I suspected that now I must be about to encounter the hill that would take me up to the other side, I saw a sign showing the distance I had left behind. It said: 1.5 km. I grabbed my painful side and stopped breathing for a moment. The tunnel is 5.8 km long.

I collected myself and started running again, breathing as softly as I could manage and took in the view, the lights, the fans, the partly man-made walls, the road, the roadsides, the emergency telephones. Many people were lagging behind, but others were also out of sight ahead of me. And all of a sudden, I started having fun again. This was in fact a wonderful adventure; to be able to be alone with my thoughts inside the earth and to have all the time in the world at my disposal.
I walked and galloped in turns, took some sprints and put my sweaty head down when the hill appeared at the north side. It was much worse than it appeared to be. Not especially steep, but looong. For a while I lost my faith again, thought I would never make it to the end, felt I would almost certainly loose my life somewhere by the roadside.
But I had come too far to give up now and this hard work also paid off, since I got a medallion at the finishing line (like everyone else for that matter) and was so happy about this whole little adventure that the soreness in my muscles in the coming days was nothing but a sweet reminder about a small but important step in my life.

In retrospect, writing my first novel was exactly the same. It started as a sudden idea and if I had known what a long, and sometimes gloomy, path I would have to leave behind before getting to the finishing point, I may never have started the journey. But it was fun to be an explorer, fun to be out of breath, sweat, to even out my pace, refrain from grabbing the emergency phone. This was an experience that both toughened me and taught me – and thrilled me.

I am ready to take out the old sneakers any time. And I hope I (as well as all the others) will always find the light at the end of the tunnel.

February 4th, 2011

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