A poem from my collection ‘The Absence of Trees.’



The house smelt of Christmas time,

meat soup, leaf bread and ptarmigan.

But the two children could not touch and take,

they had to wait for the  grownups

all still at church.


They hid their little hands behind their straight backs,

and whistled to keep themselves amused,

while outside, Iceland held onto delicate winter sunshine.


The big, empty house with its exciting smells became too much,

the worst possible place to be.

They dressed warm and thought of nothing else

but fun and snow and sun.


They’d been forbidden to step outside,

but snow spoke their language,

invited them to unspoilt parts

where they could hear the river.


They knotted their fingers together

and walked deliberately,

the same circle,

until green started to shimmer

through the powder.


The river roared through gaps in the lava.

The children didn’t recognise danger in the form of water.

Sparks of light scattered across the froth, teasing them.


The bridge across was narrow and rocky,

inviting, like the back of a favourite granddad.

They stood, momentarily awe struck,


then tried to swallow cold splashes of water,

their excitement like electricity.

Dizziness dropped them into the rush.


They didn’t have the strength

to thrash like feral horses,

and eyes shut tight, they died together.


She cursed the bridge a thousand times,

through short intakes of breath and tears.

She ran her hands over the stone

where her children’s wet, black footprints finished.

[1] Barnafoss means children’s waterfall.