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Notes on sources follow the poem: Old Norse (1), Old Norse (2), names of horses (3), translations (4), videogame (5).

I wanted to be hidden again
in the pulsing veins of the earth, the wind howling
its iron, seeping whispers. I became lost
despairing of my own energy
like the horses that must haul the sun
Árvakr ok Alsviðr (Early Waker and All-Wise)
up the skyroad with great weariness;
enn und þeira bógom (and under their withers)
fálo blíð regin (concealed, the blithe powers)
æsir, ísarn kól (the aesir, an iron coolness)—
but no deity
provided a cooling wind
for my own burnt shoulders.

So I told myself, maybe
I was wrong all along
the wolf is always going
to devour the sun;
these horses labor for nothing

Here is something else:
in a videogame
a person somewhat like me
was doomed to curse others
and thus to a great loneliness.
I’m still thinking about it—
their will of iron
fists like a maelstrom
the power of earth called up into the ragged air
a dragon’s hidden heart
I thought I found a true shape then, but I
found it hard to believe
that the story said, if you’ve suffered
it’s best to just die

it was fate, I guess,
a narrative device
that leaves no room for hope

Sometimes the stories I find
say something else:
that it’s fine to rest (but not how to survive while resting)
that it’s fine to hurt (but this hurt curses others, so be quiet)
that it’s fine to ask for help, and it’s fine
to refuse to give help; leading to nothing but loneliness

there’s one thing I know—and all the stories affirm it:
this work is yet needed
and between rest and work
only one is optional

Sól ek sá (I saw the sun)
when I was by a great grief stricken,
tilting out of this world; my tongue was as trees in winter
ok kólnat at fyrir utan (and around me, coldness)

You need to rest, said the people who also said
but not at the expense of the to-do list
You need to rest, said the people who also said
this timeline needs fixing
not tomorrow, not at your leisure, not
when you’re rested: but yesterday and today and sideways
in all the multiverses looping upon themselves
like a curse that a thousand fix-it fics won’t fix
like a coin always landing tails,
like a dragon howling
its power, knowing that it only
hastens fate:
yes, I said,
yes, I will do the work

He is called Svöl
who stands in front of the sun
a shield for its brilliant power;
biorg ok brim (mountain and sea)
ek veit at brenna skolo (I know, will burn)
ef hann fellr í frá (if he falls down)

I think the shield is lower now
Even iron burns out

Listen, I don’t trust this story
listen, it needs rewriting:
there must be a reason
to stand in front of the sun
year in and year out
which isn’t a narrative device

It’s hard to know where my work and my pain
separate; sometimes, I can’t even
tell them apart
I lift my lantern
swaying silently, seeking
answers only I can find
somewhere, in this sunless mist:
is the sun already devoured or is there still hope
between work and despair
between fire and freezing?

listen, I have no energy
listen, I must find a way
listen, I need respite

 

Notes on Sources and Translations

(1) The first and last of the three Old Norse fragments are from Grímnismál,
stanzas 37 (the stanza of “Árvakr ok Alsviðr...”) and 38 (the stanza of “He is called Svöl...”), respectively. All spellings are according to the Neckel and Kuhn edition of the Poetic Edda; however, I replaced the spelling c in Neckel and Kuhn with k, to be in line with the spellings found in other editions.
Kuhn, Hans and Gustav Neckel. Edda, Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern, 1. Text. Heidelberg, 1983.

(2) the second fragment (the stanza of “Sól ek sá...”) is from a much later poem, Sólarljóð, which probably dates to the 13th century; the text is quoted from The Skaldic Project, which is based on multiple editions and reconstructions. https://skaldic.org/m.php?p=skaldic

(3) Names of the horses: Alsviðr is usually translated as “very swift”, sometimes “very strong”, but I translated alsviðr as “all-wise”; this adjective is used five times to describe the giant in the Eddic poem Vafðrúðnismál (La Farge and Tucker 1992). In the Eddic poems, the adjective sviðr usually means wise or shrewd, although it is sometimes used to describe strong or swift rivers, hence the usual interpretation of the horse Alsviðr as “very swift” or “very strong”. I chose to translate as “all-wise” because I liked that it is the wisest horse who finds itself hitched to a thankless and hopeless enterprise of dragging up the sun destined to be devoured.
La Farge, Beatrice and John Tucker. Glossary to the Poetic Edda (Skandinavistische Arbeiten 15). Heidelberg, 1992.

(4) Translations and interpretations in English are mine, but I did refer to previous scholarship and translations. Ursula Dronke’s commentary and translations of Grímnismál have received some critique, but I appreciated consulting them, as well as other editions and commentary. I always recommend the scholarly translations in The Skaldic Project. I took a few poetic liberties with the sources, but not many; any errors are mine.
Dronke, Ursula. The Poetic Edda. Volume III: Mythological Poems II. Oxford, 2011.

(5) The videogame referenced in the poem is Tales of Berseria, and the character is Eizen, whose name is a respelling of German Eisen, which means iron. Germ. Eisen is a cognate of Old Norse words for iron: ísarn and iárn.



R.B. Lemberg (they/them) is a queer, bigender immigrant originally from L’viv, Ukraine. R.B.’s work set in their fantastical Birdverse has been a finalist for the Nebula, Ignyte, World Fantasy, Locus, Crawford, and other awards. R.B.’s Birdverse collection Geometries of Belonging is currently shortlisted for the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. You can find R.B. on Instagram and Bluesky, on Patreon, and at rblemberg.net.
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