Tell me, Reykjavik

Cannon_Frances_Tell me Reykjavik_illustrated01.jpg

In the museum, a cavernous gallery
with floor to ceiling windows, white walls,
and a constellation of black paintings—
five opera singers weave their voices
to the fingers of young pianists
in gratitude to Art, the Healer.

The writers arrive, rubbing away crystals
of sleep with coffee-stained fingers,
inhale stale doughnuts to delay conversation.
Desire, moony faced, interrupts the banquet.
This rude guest meanders, a witness
to elation through a glazed window.

Insomniac Matilda frets about a date
with her publisher, an older man
whose longing—near visible spectre—perches
atop his sand-trap bald spot,
poised to leap into a nest
of hair more vital and luminous.

Supper: a picnic of rye bread,
salted black licorice in sardine shapes,
and salad carried between two bowls
into the old cemetery of Holavallagardur.
Will ghosts sweep our crumbs
into their lonesome maws at midnight?

The sky still glows at night
like aluminum reflecting lamplight or flame.
We all pause at the gate
to catch a strange bird’s call,
hearing now a choir of voices,
midnight mass? We follow the song

into a stranger’s garden, to find
dozens of art students, twenty-somethings,
singing in unison by candle and moonlight.
They welcome us in, and sing
three songs just for us—interlopers,
aliens in this city of music.

Who, then, played the piano—forte!
late into the night and morning?
Was it our hosts, the judge
and the historian, both retired, deaf,
windy in the head? Melodic trolls,
hidden people from this island’s sagas?

We escape, trace the dirt road
which slices into the lava cliff,
step quietly past a goat family,
squelch through the luminous moss bed,
and climb towards a grass mound
shaped like a mountaintop fisherman’s ship.

Why, then, are we here? Why
fill a notebook cover-to-cover
with the names of dead voyagers,
sketches of local flora and fauna,
esoteric quotes from professors and novelists—
do these notes prove me a poet?

We ask the grass ship why.
We ask the historian, the judge,
the poets, novelists, students, opera singers.
They tell us not to worry,
“You’re young! Go for a swim.
Go to the pool and soak.”

One dozen geriatric Reykjavikians bob, drift,
swirl their arms and blubber bellies
in the shallow, salted, geothermal pool.
Edith Piaf croons from the loudspeaker.
Wooden chess pieces—tall as vikings—
hold morning rain in their helmets.

I make accidental, unnerving eye-contact
with a withered swimmer-bobber woman
wearing a cap of plastic flowers—
licorice black and strawberry pink. Hush,
her eyes tell me, be still.
You possess all I desire: Time.


FRANCES CANNON is a writer and artist with an MFA in nonfiction and book arts from the Iowa Writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa, and a BFA in poetry and printmaking from the University of Vermont. She is the author and illustrator of the graphic memoir, The Highs and Lows of Shapeshift Ma and Big-Little Frank, published by Gold Wake Press, as well as a book of paintings and poetic translations, Tropicalia, through Vagabond Press, and a book of poems and prints, Uranian Fruit, through Honeybee Press. She was born in Utah and has since lived in Oregon, Vermont, California, Maine, Iowa, Italy, Guatemala, France, and Mexico making art and writing books. She has also worked as an editorial intern and contributor at McSweeney's Quarterly, The Believer, The Lucky Peach,and The Iowa Review. She has recently been published in Vice,  Prompt Press, The Iowa Review, The Examined Life Journal, Edible Magazine, Electric Lit, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. You can find more of her work at

ABOUT THE PIECE: I recently traveled to Iceland for a nonfiction writers' conference, but I found myself distracted from academic panels by two the arbitrary tasks that I had set out for myself before the trip. I often have to create these invisible structures in my art practice in order to motivate myself to produce anything at all. The first was to write a poem every day throughout the month of June, each six lines long, and each line containing six words. I wrote the bulk of these poems in response to my direct observations and experiences while in Reykjavik, including the conference itself—all of those highly intellectual and academic colleagues with their social neurosis and over caffeinated jitters provided excellent fodder. My second task was to fill an entire sketchbook with drawings, notes, lists, stories, and quotes. I succeeded in completing both tasks and consequently failed to pay attention to any lecture or reading that I attended. Instead, I spent hours obsessively doodling benches and statues on city streets, old photographs in museums, fishmongers at the market, and pedestrians in front of my favorite bakery. The undercurrent of myth and magic in Reykjavikian culture permeated my sketchbook, and my drawings and poems communicate within this realm of trolls and imaginal sea creatures. When I returned from my trip, I sifted through the chaos of my notebook, and gathered my favorite golden nuggets in order to reassemble them into one graphic poem. The entire poem takes place during the course of a single day in Reykjavik, with a visual guide to both the material and mythological narratives. 

Six from Thrown

Poems by James Wagner to a Painting by Bracha L. Ettinger


Bracha L. Ettinger, NO TITLE YET, N. 3 (EURYDICE, ST. ANNE)
oil on canvass, 54x29 cm. 2003-2009. © The Bracha L. Ettinger Studio



Swam and answered with innards:

The hooligans

the night’s inside.

By implication: remember him

red and waving,

her knees near the thieves,




A torso

will hope

you forward.



Eyeglasses and penises,
lost walkers.

Look there:

her sex versus traces later

remembered. Is this the sky I know of?

Was it ever so spoken for?

What is this red man an omen of?

If we are mutating fragilities, always

askance, wallowing, then this

under of how come is breeding


without order. So one must

say to no one to
laugh to.




Aliens carrying

a licentiousness,

the legs lifted, the

asses expressed.

Jazzmen, without


a whiteout

astutely removes


No need to fake

the abstaining


or hide a sky away.

Here are the


those sought

over years.




Photograph of a corpuscle. The itinerants in us.

What white light on the albino giraffics,

where the childhood waited in red,

covering elders in specks even as they moved

seemingly out of reach of it. A nuance in the blue,

a fear of impersonating one’s self, a self absurd

or intermittently aghast at the hurt one can never

name. Mingling triplets in the middle?

Of roads in the mountains. There are nexuses

in the left threading, but not a one notices.

“As I was saying, as I was saying...” calls

into the spaces that separate these dreams—




In the sleep of beliefs,

in the misunderstandings

masquerading, the

blur of the persons and the dabbling

vacuums on the margins

bracing fragments in

meanings //// the undigested

the formlessness pours from

these three winds finish in

the ars poetica of the ants...




These creatures seem lost in white trees.

A semblance of sayings supports them,

opening their loneliness outward, so

when the shadows cough their blacks

at them, they will maintain their shapes

in the deluge.

This trickery of winter welcomes in

the breezes of missing in the houses

they are leaving. A kind of kinky

electricity jaggedly and vibrantly

encases. A love, from the crimson

blue, absolves all

who might whisper and wait for a

meaning to remember. No

coding, no gateways, no findings

of unkindness in the hazefields.

One eye watches for sympathy, drifts

of it, in us.

And what of the kids, prim, faceless

at the knees, being led into a new

oblivion, unaware as the others?

One only knows the wordless glow

in lark sounds there, beyond the small

omens of men.

Bracha Ettinger B&W photo by Ania Krupiakov_2014_4438_3sm.jpgBracha L.Ettinger is a visual artist, philosopher, and theoretician of French Feminist psychoanalysis. Recent solo exhibitions at: the Historical Museum of St. Petersburg, Peter and Paul Fortress (2013); Museum of Fine Arts (Beaux-arts), Angers (2011); Tapies Foundation, Barcelona (2011), Freud Museum, London (2009). Recent group exhibitions at: Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2013-2014); Pompidou Centre, Paris (2010-2011). She is the author of Matrix. Halal(a) -Lapsus, MOMA oxford (1993) and The Matrixial Borderspace, University of Minnesota Press (2006).


James-Wagner.jpgJames Wagner is the author of Thrown (There Press, forthcoming),Work Book (Nothing Moments), Trilce (Calamari Press), the false sun recordings (3rd bed), and several chapbooks, including Geisttraum—Tales from the Germans and The Idiocy: Plays. His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in The American Poetry ReviewThe BafflerBoston ReviewFence6x6Zoland Poetry and elsewhere. He lives in California.