2 poems by Jean Atkin


Icelandic


the weight over both our heads is Katla

where the glacier’s massive shield is

wedged among snowy peaks, impaled

under the sky like a spell on a nail


the mare’s mane is brown and falls

coarse on both sides of her neck

grittily her blue hooves sink

into riverbank stone and gravel


she lowers her head to look. I let the reins

run and at once she steps out into the glacial

river. Both her forelegs slide down a hidden

stony shelf and she lunges, with purpose


into the bright water. I follow her sway

with the small of my back

lift up my legs against

her sides, like in the photographs


in the museum, all those farmers raising

their monochrome, gaitered legs

along thick-furred flanks

as their horses waded and splashed


right now the river covers my mare’s knees

and drags at her. The current funnels blue

and fast around her, creates a moment’s vertigo

when I can’t tell if she’s being forced


downstream or if it’s just my mind

that’s running out to sea



If you are lost


in an Icelandic forest

stand up,


they say, and true, some

trees are only waist-high

thicket and not wood


but tonight these birches

are true forest

they climb the steepness

of sky above us

bend their dark crowns

down on us


we step quick and careful

losing height through

tangled roots that

rib the path

make narrow

staircases that turn

on ruckled landings

light is really going now

we descend descend

the mountain


and at ease, ahead of us

a redwing hops


we follow it down

we scramble fast

against the night


within the month

it’ll follow us

and migrate south

just now in the near-

dark

it leads the way


______

In 2021 Jean Atkin published ‘Fan-peckled’ (Fair Acre Press) and ‘The Bicycles of Ice and Salt’ (Indigo Dreams). Her poetry has won competitions, been commissioned, anthologised, and featured on BBC Radio 4. She was BBC National Poetry Day Poet for Shropshire 2019. She works as a poet in education and community.