Gerður Kristný

Gerður Kristný, a fiction writer and poet from Iceland, is the author of five poetry collections, two novels, nine books for children, a travelogue and one biography. Widely awarded, her work has been translated into 21 languages. In 2011, the musical The Ball at Bessastadir, based on her fiction, was staged at Iceland’s National Theatre. Kristný has worked in broadcasting and is the former editor-in-chief of a literary monthly.

Poems translated by Victoria Cribb


New Year’s Morning
The only ones to have
survived the night
are a Japanese family
who have switched off
the neon signs in their heads
and made do with the light
over the mountains

When the boy breaks the ice-film
on the lake with his toe
a low crack sounds
like the snap of a wing

He catches up with his parents
on the bridge where they
quicken their pace
They mean to be safe
indoors before
darkness reimposes
its curfew
Patriotic Poem
The cold makes me
a lair of fear
places a pillow of
downy drift
under my head
a blanket of snow
to swaddle me in

I’d lay my ear to
the cracking of the ice
in the hope of hearing it
if I didn’t know
I’d be frozen fast

The ice lets no one go

My country
a spread deathbed
my initials stitched
on the icy linen
Slow as sperm whales
we glide through the gloom
which is white
here on the heath

It holds fast to its own
conceding only
one post at a time

For an instant they flash
on the side of the road
like the little girl’s matches
in the fairytale
lighting us
until we return
to the hole in the ice
to breathe

As you fall asleep
your arms slide apart
no shelter there for me now
the hatches burst
and the sea breaks through

I sink
through a thousand fathoms
not one of which
enfathoms me

Slowly the seabed
beneath the weight of my sleep

Foreboding heads my way
soon it will glide
into my dream

like a visitation
At the end
of the ramp
I inadvertently glance back

but you have vanished from view

Beyond the glass
a new day lifts itself
off the pavement
the blue of the mountains
spreads across my mind

as I turn
to continue on my way
I trip on my hem
my journey’s designed
for a bigger woman than me

The plane waits on the runway
and I feel as if
the propeller’s bitter blades
have entered my heart
Anne Frank
By day there’s not a peep
from Anne who lives
in widowhood overhead
– except when she dozes off
over her diary
drops it on the floor

Otherwise not a peep

It’s another matter at night
then there’s all hell of a hubbub
Anne’s friends pound up the stairs
hollering their hellos
and crack open a feast
Some with a bottle of buttermilk
others nursing eggs

Towards dawn the neighbours are fed up
of fiddles and folksongs
The guests depart in haste
melting into the walls

When the police force the door
Anne sits at the kitchen table

The farmer drives gloating
through the district
vixen dead on the hood

He laid siege to her lair
in his jeep
so the animal smelt
the stench of petrol
not man

No one mentions
Achilles or Hector
and I know how to
hold my tongue