by John Sibley Williams
Base of Mt. Hekla, Iceland
It’s no wonder Jules Verne chose it
as the gateway through time and hell. The center of the earth
reaches up and pours out natural history’s full weight
as hardened lava rock, miles and
miles of this fossilized dinosaur bone
speckled in moss, broken only by mountain,
lush field, snaking river, glacier,
and all else capable of breaking
the vibrant wind-swept whiff of decay.
So much everything embedded in the solid
embodiment of nothing. Nothing is certain, nothing really
Treading on a pane of dust
would be less temporary underfoot
yet even the ephemeral here is
rock-hard. Unsevered, the coagulation of all memory,
clotting dreams and regret. Sulfur makes the air
opaque yet disease-free. I choke
on the fierce freedom I smell.
Here and there a lone house, I see
reminders of human life, otherwise
left to a dirt rock road’s imagination.
Springing from a fertile tuft between deaths,
this weathered white ranch tries hard
to smile (and it does in it’s toothy way).
Alone for miles, no school, church, neighbor
but Hekla’s rigged chapel and a mutt
asleep behind a jeep’s back wheel.
Hermetic utopia on Martian landscape, why
would they live deep in volcanic shadow
when, twice a century, eruptions flatten it
all over again. The ash even darkens Norwegian sky
and all waters between, fire and brimstone
at driveway’s end.
I almost knock at their door to ask why
risk death just to live,
to run, rebuild, return
every generation, set your watch to it,
it’s coming again and your children will
run, rebuild, return with you;
accepting assistance from this scattered community,
floors re-boarded, walls repainted, ground up,
setting life to nil just for fifty more years
of the same, why
not move to Reykjavik or Selfoss or Hella,
by the fjords or farms, what
spell does this place cast to keep you
so blindly bonded together?
The dog stretches and yawns and falls
back asleep between the jeep and
mountain. I complete the day’s hike without knocking
and return to the hotel with many calls to make,
trying to dab glue in the cracks
of my scattered family
disunited even in a grandmother’s death.