Two Poems

By Sarah Brownsberger

The Conversion of Iceland

At Thingvellir, in 1000 CE, the national assembly commissioned a pagan chieftain, Thorgeir from Lightwater, to decide whether Iceland should accept Christianity.

He pulled a fur cloak over his head
and lay on the Law Stone all day dead-still

so as not to lose the thread of his thought
in sibilance of silk and whispering;

and because long thought saps nervous strength
as love deferred saps muscle; and this task

felt like a basalt column tall as air
braced on his chest; and the heavy hide

would shield his back while he wandered off deep

into black woollen wastes of strategy:
oh how would each stone fall if hit at just

such an angle, how might she brood, he strike.
While in Rome a mild-faced curate could report

that even the pale heathen at the mouth of hell itself
had succumbed to Christ, at home every knoll and hollow

must be consulted: and you, will you accept this Man
to be your lawfully deeded Father? Rock

imprinted his cheek, his shoulder. When the sun
had made its traverse he rose and said, “All of you

pledged to accept my judgment. One law,
therefore one God—but

let no one be punished for a private feast.”


A Call

In the bright mist
the birches formed a portico
beckoning me

out of the field
into a dreadful clarity:
the leaves were down

and their slick bronze
below and the bright mist above
so clearly etched

each nubbly growth
and curve of pale or rose-black limb
that there came clear

not many steps
beyond, in a clearing where
the mist flared bright

a man of bronze
with bronze robes, bronze curls, and bronze flesh
over bronze bone

and silent bronze
lips that yet were volatile being
made of light, light

without a source.
He simply stood there gazing out
through mist-wet limbs,

something from a lower order
he was beyond,

yet he stood so
near me, holding in his right hand
withered grass,

and in his left
a book
with no name yet.

Sarah Brownsberger’s poetry has appeared in The Christian Century, OnEarth, The Hudson Review, Salamander, Meridian, The Mennonite, Verse Daily, and other journals. Her translation of Sigfus Bjartmarsson’s Raptorhood, bestiary, has just been published by Uppheimar Press this last spring.

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