He built his laftehus in the old way,
As it should be done, using cured wood,
Beam on tremendous beam, an X joint
With interlocking notches at the seam.
Sweating over plans, permits, rights of way.
Helicopter drops in snow, cajoling
The bureaucrats, architects, authorities.
His wife, to just let him get on with it.
A truffle hog, he sniffed out each stick, churn
Implement, coaxing farmers, dealers,
Collectors to part with their cherished pieces
For him to enshrine in his sacred wooden space.
In the hard work it took to fell trees, drag them,
Haul them across the forest, dig foundations,
And shape the beams, he buried some memories.
Then he nailed a few more into the walls.
You can hear him up there still, pottering, fussing
By the woodpile, stacking tins of condensed milk,
Cod roe from Svolvær, provisions to last him
Until he is forced to cede to a new generation.
Already they come, screwing up his systems,
Logging their jaunts in his cloth-bound cabin book.
The shrieks of their blueberry-trampling children
Irk him as he reads his National Geographic.
Alone at night, calm from the cold earth seeps
Up through the well-crafted floorboards,
Contrives to soothe his shell-shocked sleep,
In the one place where he could find peace.
Only the pine marten, the snowy owls, the rut
Of elks to disturb him, at dawn mist clears slowly
As goats file past the stone steps to his door.
Outside, fjord and sky, ready to do his bidding.
Poetry Ireland Review (No 122, 2017)
Tunnelling through treacle, trying to place –
To remember – a flat in Dublin,
In Baggot Street (or was it Portobello?)
On a June evening when we were young.
A room with a cracked ceiling in the flat
Of a friend, someone you knew in Harold’s Cross
Or somewhere around that part of the city
It was a balmy night and I saw the stars
From the open window of that dim room.
How could that have been possible?
With all the city lights reflected in the sky
Above that space, with its cistern crooning.
Nothing else sang. There were no nightingales.
No square below. But we had the stars.
We didn’t dwell on them, being young
Was enough for us on a June night.
You went out for fags. We all smoked then,
Finding a place that was open until 2 am,
Long before all-night petrol stations,
Back in half an hour to that crooked couch.
There was a fruit bowl on the kitchen table
With nothing in it. Apart from one rotting core.
There must have been a drip, the failing drone
Of a fly trapped somewhere in that flat.
It may have been near the Bleeding Horse,
Or The Barge. The crash of beer bottles,
Shouts, jeers, the crack of a broken nose,
Engines running into the jitters of dawn.
The deer caught in the headlights
On one late, last November evening,
The river running on as we stare
at the old television set reflect the fire
from the stove crackling against the cold.
The dusty surfaces we were never to disturb.
Instead, we sit draped, shrouded in silence
until an unexpected neighbour calls in with lefse.
Arriving by bicycle from the farm on the hill.
Warrior-like, hardy. She is the last of the Mohicans.
Rising at five to make dough for the long day’s
bread, sprinkling sugar on the unleavened treat.
She won’t change her habits until they carry
her down to be buried in the same graveyard
where your forebears lie. Isak, Magnus and Signe.
I am homesick for Viksdalen, sick for a home
That ever was and never will be my own.
(Hennessy New Irish Writing, 2014)
Up on the roof of the house,
Perched, or is it mending
The thatch before nightfall?
A step ladder against the gable.
Man or woman, it’s hard to say.
In a crow’s anorak, the cap a black beak.
It hardly matters now, much less to her,
She is gone beyond all that.
She’d wring a starling’s neck as quick
As she’d look at it – and often did –
Her beasts of cats trailing mangled
Trophies to her open door.
They found her outside one hard day
As darkness gathered at Leebitton
A heart attack – at eighty-six –
Emptying a hundredweight of coal.
“You can’t pick and choose,” she told me.
A flutter of the gap between hopes
And days at yarn and loom, holding out
Amid the cold stones above the sound.
I never did find out what she meant.
Promises breached, a lover lost, vicious talk
At town meetings, fences trampled down,
A much-cherished dog poisoned.
(Templar Poetry anthology Skein, 2014)
Travellers of the North
The hidden, hunted faces of the Sami,
Ripped from the blood warmth of the flames.
Their tools, their knives taken, their magic
Turned monochrome, flash-frozen to frame.
Scattered in the ash of black Novembers,
Their bones, their reindeer, their myths.
Unfolded in tapestries of colour
In lilted plumes of yoik – their lament.
Caught again as the light and dark etches
Upon the bare Kautokeino steppes.
Beautiful wild travellers of the North,
You’re crazy, you drink, and you fight.
Your spells, secret knowledge and sorcery
Waft still in the drifts of Arctic night.
Viksdalen and other poems are © Fiona Smith