~quoting Bernard Scudder’s translation of “The Prophecy” (anonymous Icelandic poem)
I’m no longer the youngest of the virgins
made to sit up front, our faces on full display
for the congregation’s unmarried sons.
But I still have a girl’s fair, yellow-whey hair
thicker than un-spun wool, longer than a foal’s tail
when unpinned for evening’s comb.
And my eyes are still bluer than the sky
over Denmark in June. This morning I can see
more keenly than the lava-orbs of Odin’s ravens:
I’m spying the birch-carved runes ghosting DEUS
imprinted in the prayer book on my lap; through the wall
without windows I’m counting the nine original colors
of the rainbow that saddles the widest waterfall’s
hidden waterfall; beside the creek, inside our farmhouse
I’m spotting the long-lost pinhole of the whale-bone needle
with which my grandmother stitched
the three-broken, eight-petaled Skaftafell rose;
and further, I’m peering into the foster children’s
cliff-side cave, down its tunnel to the Birth Rock
that remembers not a single ballad’s echo.
If now I raise my gaze, during the thunderous sermon,
if now I look upon the broad white brow
of the virgin boy seated by the locked doors,
I foresee the basalt-deaf husband he’s fated to become,
like a cairn amassed at the far shore of the last fjord.
Mark this—I will marry him. But for the sake of
today’s unholy display of innocent daughters,
our wedding night shall be my blinding revenge.
At midnight I will hurl a thousand fistfuls of black sand
all across the Northern sky. My prophecy:
never again will these churchmen behold
Iceland’s shining lights. Then, of the godly preacher
who had sealed my vows, I will demand
just as the seeress demanded: “Would you know more—
—Therese L. Broderick
Process Notes for the Poem, "The Daughter on Sunday Display"
Inspired by my April 2018 trip around Iceland, the poem was seeded by the recounting of a tour guide that single Icelandic women were once required to sit at the front of their church during Sunday services, so that eligible bachelors could take a good look.
The poem expands the gesture of "looking at." I composed the poem in the voice of one of the single daughters who can see much more than the bachelors can. Indeed, she has supernatural vision. She can see the evolution of language in her prayer book; she can see through church walls; she can see down into the earth and behind the waterfalls. (When choosing images for this section, I chose scenes encountered while on tour.)
The last section of the poem introduces two themes from old Icelandic poetry: revenge of slighted honor, and far-seeing prophecy. In a Reykjavik bookstore, I purchased a volume of Icelandic poetry translated into English. One of the poems in the book was the famous long Eddic poem, "The Prophecy" (author unknown), spoken in the voice of a seeress. I added that allusion. The repeton of "The Prophecy" appears as the last phrase of my own poem.
Therese L. Broderick of Albany, New York, has been an active, wide-ranging participant in her writing community for more than 17 years. Currently, she is tutoring a former refugee (now a USA citizen) who wants to write poems in English. Her first full-length collection, Breath Debt: Poems, is forthcoming from Page Publishing.