Sarah Brownsberger


To the Honourable, Learned Walter Raleigh:
A Relation of Our Adventure in Iceland


Determined to “hold my soul in my teeth”
long enough to relay our present state,
I survey the habitat. Your minions,
our ancestors, reconnoitered far and wide;
we have settled for an uncontested
subarctic site, secured with cash and rights.
Native rowan, scrub birch, and willow yield
scant timber; waterfowl might supply us
some weeks, the livestock some few months; the fish
we cannot get in number, Sir, without
great ships and gasoline. The soil is thin
and wind-scoured but supports barley and kale;
sorrel and angelica grow by streams.
At present we rely on trade financed
by overfishing and energy drawn
from glacial rivers and fracked hot water
both of which a century may deplete.
With both sexes yoked to salary jobs
debt and consumption run high; children are
a pooled resource, raised by professionals.
Traverse and commerce proceed in safety
and daily comfort reigns, though clouds of ash
gum motors and obscure the upper air.
Provisions for the future are subject
to policy, press, and stumbling science;
religion is scorned by all the powers,
restraint condemned as subversive to growth.
Clams, it appears, thrive beneath the flats,
and the kelp roots form vermillion nodes
that tantalize my hunger even now.



Sarah M. Brownsberger is a poet, essayist, novelist, and Icelandic-English translator. Samples of her work can be found at

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