Poems by Eva Heisler


The Sea and the Residency Permit

A suitcase unloads thermals and Secret antiperspirant.
Its battered polypropylene

murmurs of Diet Coke and conceptual art.
Separated from my dictionaries

by the Ministry of Star Maps,
I cannot translate fantasy into an address.

And then I ask: tongues.
Where do Icelanders get them.

What are they made of.
How do they do that, the tongues,

unloose luck and time.
An outcast’s wail startles the sky.

Hafsteinn. Aðalsteinn. Unnar Stein.
Sea stone. Noble stone. Wave-thrown stone.

How I would like to believe
in the tenderness of bureaucrats.

The sea swallows supporting documents.
The suitcase is threatening to write about me.

In an office woolly and planetary,
a woman with fill-in-the-blank face

timestamps my permit.
Umlauts flash.

Just like that,
the unfastening of an alphabet.


Beginning with a Line from The Poetic Edda

Night it’s called among humankind, and darkness by the gods,
the masker by the high powers, unlight by the giants,
joy-of-sleep by the elves, the dwarfs call it sleep kidney.


You were the son of blind parents.
A seeing-eye raven cawing color-words.


Like the globe you painted black.
What must be felt

before reading the map.


Each raised dot was the track of a vagrant
spooncarver dying in a cupboard—

The outcast’s Braille.


In my neighborhood, the street names end with hlíð.

Eskihlíð, old slope.

Mávahlíð, waving slope.

I didn’t want to die.

Your broken English was in my notebook.


Skógarhlíð, forest slope.

Vesturhlíð, west slope.


I nursed my shadow in borrowed rooms.

Mjóahlíð, smooth slope.

Reykjahlíð, smokey slope.


Ulcer-making midnight sun.

I cover my eyes now burning,
and you are counting syllables in my sleep.


Eva Heisler has published two books of poetry: Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic (Kore Press, 2013) and Drawing Water (Noctuary Press, 2013, and excerpted in BOMB). Honors include the Poetry Society of America’s Emily Dickinson Award, and fellowships at MacDowell and Millay Arts. She was co-winner of the 2021 Poetry International Prize, and poems are forthcoming in Colorado Review and Michigan Quarterly Review.



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