Excerpt from the Saint Brendan Manuscript

The aurora was like water jetting from a whale,
misting as frozen breath would
just above the ocean—
itself so still, so untouched,
that it appeared like it had never moved before.
Underneath the glimmer-light of heaven
the sea was a snow plain,
so solid that we could be fooled into thinking
that boot prints could be squeezed into the fizzing foam.

Atop this other land was a shard of rock,
that came and went, as though pulled
by the will of the evening tides.
Slipping out of finger’s reach,
goading men to take her.

Along the bits of shore many fools thought they could—
particularly when the moon hung low—
thinking they were Njǫrd, master of the seas,
only to be snatched
and dragged into the depths of the deep-below.

Just as we were made to inherit the earth,
nature had a different plan for the sea.
That shifting mass, which men have died to plunder,
is the sea-queen.

It belches sea-steam, so shoals of fish
would swim closer, blinded by the fog,
until their scales bristled the stilled sides
of something that isn’t seaweed

but tentacles,
whose razored hides goad unlucky victims
towards the cave that breaks the surface—
the maw of this beast,
sucking anything into its rows of rock-like fangs,
pasting fish and men into a pulp;
Swallowing light and drowning out voices too.
Leaving nothing but an iron tang across the ocean brine.

Some things are best kept out of men’s touch,
left to the scattering of the deep-below.

Hafgufa (Icelandic, haf “sea” + gufa “steam”) is a massive sea monster that was famously recorded in the Örvar-Odds saga. Said to have existed in the Greenland Sea, Hafgufa often disguised itself as an island rising from the sea, a false dagger of land that entices land-grabbing Vikings to sail closer, before rising up and eating their ship whole.

Hafgufa was part of my Alpine Fellowship poetry submission in 2021, and unfortunately the submission as a whole did not make the cut. Instead of letting it languish with disuse, I’ve chosen to publish it here. However, it might be taken down in the future if it gets published, so read it NOW before it’s too late!

What do you think of this poem? Let me know in the comments below, or by liking this poem. Don’t be afraid of sharing your opinions!

© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021



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