Old Norse Family Values

This entry is part 25 of 29 in the series Conversari


Gísla saga Súrssonar

Son of sour milk
tried to trick fate
by going under a lifted strip of sod,
making a coin with two heads
held together with rivets,
even staging his own death.

The sons & daughter of Sour
soon soured on each other,
& the blood-brother’s blood, which had dried
on the point of an ensorcelled spear,
blended with the blood of the killer
who had earlier refused such a mingling,
refused to swear brotherhood.

They outlawed the killer’s killer
(also his brother-in-law).
He went back under the sod to hide,
& in his dreams, two women
took turns filling his drinking horn,
one with mead, the other with gore,
& all streams flowed down
into the same broad fjord.

See Rachel’s photographic response: “Blood and milk.”


“Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,
That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?”

~ Job 38: 19-20


We sit and hug our knees, watching as children come to the center of the square, where volunteers have set up fires and big iron cauldrons. Some have brought buckets, and some have brought styrofoam bowls; and some have brought tin plates or the plastic cover of a margarine tub. Their faces are smeared with soot, with tears, with snot. They haven’t eaten for days. They haven’t washed. Soon there isn’t enough for their hunger. We wonder, will there ever be enough again? The long-handled ladles scrape the last burnt layers from the bottom of the pot. A few grains of brown rice, onions, lentils in the mouth. Behind them, the setting sun casts shadows in hives of stucco and plaster. Hollow stairwells, honeycombs of walls where bedrooms and kitchens used to be. Should I mouth the old prayers, should I repeat a phrase of comfort to my neighbor huddled beside me, it isn’t from claiming to know, Lord, what these designs can mean. I am smaller than a cipher on a flimsy page. In the darkness, every heart still beating buries itself like a mine waiting to explode, the way the dark amber flesh of a date swells and breaks open, no longer able to contain either its ripeness or the sugars that have hardened to stone.


In response to small stone (177).