Sjón – 10 poems

all the things we learn in the sixty-eighth form

today business is booming at the east side printing house
and the same thing is true of the entire planet

repeat after me:
priests who travel by underground
are called passengers …

all the curling balls in hanover
all the chandeliers in osaka
all the cats’ footprints in nuuk
when I awake all this shall be yours!

where the bat hangs in the clocking-in clock
− that is your home


repeat after me:
the left hand has five toes:
honey, fart, kattegat and bessi…

all the work gloves in wimbledon
all the tail feathers in seyðisfjörður
all the sugar bowls in Harare
when I awake all this shall be yours!

where the meat-grinder manufacturer’s daughter bathes
− that is your home


repeat after me:
in the three thousand one hundred and eighth copy
of the third edition of halldór laxness’s novel independent people
bjartur í sumarhúsum is called karlotta mayer

all the bus tickets in rio
all the lower lips in kirkut
all the coat hangers in basle
− when I awake all this shall be yours!

where the Plough is reflected in the soup spoon
− that is your home

when the flea and the blue whale meet in the encyclopaedia
they are the same size
when the colours vanish from the national flags
the earth begins to flutter


an icelandic economist in soho

orange tents
sprout up
around the pub

and he wonders
if the flies that seek his beer
are real


the world’s economy is governed by a giant infant
that extends between the oceans

when it cries the shares fall one after the other

like snow buntings
over snow
in a snowy winter
like snow buntings
over a snowy winter
on snow
like snow
over snow buntings
in a snowy winter
like snow
over a snowy winter
on snow buntings
like a snowy winter
over snow buntings
on snow
like a snowy winter
over snow
on snow buntings

and the change in his pockets grows lighter


the gust of wind
that crosses the square
and is meant for him alone

it opens the tent flaps
so that the listening device
comes into view

and he wonders
if the girl at the cash desk
isn’t a bit mechanical in her movements



i’ve been hit on the head by a stone – my ex-wife has been hit on the head
by a stone in my presence – my old school friend has been hit on the head
by a stone – at noon today i saw a colleague hit on the head
by a stone – i saw a cat avoid a stone that was aimed straight at
its head – i saw a stone come through the kitchen window and land on
the cook’s head – i saw a bull die within quarter of an hour of
being hit on the head by a stone – the vet who dissected the priest’s dog
believes that the cause of death was probably a stone on
the head – the eldest son of a peasant on the farm where i grew up was hit on
the head by a stone and died – i encountered four stones in the main street yester-
day and three the day before – i am corresponding with members of the mineralogical
society in london – when they read my reports of
icelandic stones they doubt that they would survive one day in
reykjavík – i replied that I’m still hanging on so educated
men like them ought to be safe here too


About the alchemist

He sits in an old sickbed
unstitching the seams in his pyjamas
someone has sprinkled wheat over him
so that now he resembles a moth
His head touches the wall
on his forehead a film is shown in slow motion

A blonde with drunken lips
sings soundlessly


news from wonderland

a medical wonder:
a blood-tree that walks

it thrills
from the heart’s roots
all the way to the fingertips

though there’s no flesh
and no bone marrow

a fact of love-science:
a blood-tree that walks

and its leaves

don’t glitter

without you


family life

after doing the washing-up the man stumbles
across a reindeer
that is lying under the coffee table
it notices him
and rears up in fright
starts running out of the parlour
along the passage
where it jumps
over a pair of sandals
and a woman’s shoe.
he chases it into the bedroom
the beast creeps
the double bed
he gets down on all fours
watches it
join the herd
it grunts
and the man disappears


self portrait

seven fingers on a coffin lid
teeth buried in an out-the-way place
bird-wings nailed to the joint

I count my eyelashes
in the room where you were born

don’t take your revenge


the stone collector’s song

i remember the thirst and the darkness
i remember one-way streets
i remember closed alleys
and you

you pointed to a cellar door
there used to be a pub there
which we visited
a lot

here it is you said comfortingly
your stone collection
it isn’t

in the shelves behind the bar
waits the iceland spar
all my

sulphur – pyrite – opal
and jasper – dear friends!
none of you have i

and up there on the ceiling hang
the obsidian sacks
heavy with


that is the poem I sing
as I squat under house-walls
when the winter denies me shelter


The apprentice

on the borders of day and night
an old man sits
an old man with the face of a child
nature’s apprentice.

And when he dies his training is complete.


9:14 am

Two suns behind a cloud
the pyromaniac rummages in the ruins
I sleep in the stationary train

-translation © David McDuff 2011