No. 4 & 5


Jóhann Hjálmarsson  

Translated from the Icelandic by Christopher Burawa  


Conscience of the Universe

The screams of dogs kick at the eardrums. Sometimes in the morning it’s pleasant to wake to the rooster crowing. But now time has changed. Boredom overtakes me in these dark winter nights. I walk in circles around my self. I eat soft ice cream in the cellar under the conscience of the universe. It has never seemed to care.



Days lose their luster and you ask yourself
which is brighter, the inner or outer dawn?
Was it something in the endless sea and lava flows of childhood
or was it the ache of brief affairs that aimed you toward the surf—
when you waded out, fearless, to compare the fraction of time
on an invisible clock’s second hand that rules weather and chance
down to the smallest features of your face, voicing an opinion
mumbled anyway and understood to be, at the same time,
happiness and sorrow. How could anyone leave you
like a cloud on a perfect morning?

Were the breakers still speaking to you on the bus ride out of town,
in the lonely rooms you stayed in on your travels
from this place to the next, did they proclaim something
about time itself to you, that you lived outside of the rules—
that riotous but unanimous choir always toasting everything you said?
Toward the tidewater wash you walk, a blurring figure,
transparent, leaving no footprints.


Final Solution

He equates a confrontation with the throng to a haboob.
To see houses again,
street cars, rediscover
the paving stones,
and hear them hum,
was to perceive the gathering speed around him—
tasks, obligations.
He was situated in an alien universe, there
where everything was too familiar,
just so he could reach an accord
between himself and that which was outside.
It was beyond his powers
to be born into a new self in the same world.
He could only manage walking a few steps.
Later, it was determined, he escaped by sea.



Imagination is a tree opposing a woodcutter. It’s also the patient axe blade, which doesn’t seek but finds. Powerlessness and imagination are not the same things. Wild animals cry out from their pens. By the time you release them they have forgotten how to hunt. They beg at the table for prunes or oatmeal. Imagination is of the opinion that it understands life. Likewise, it has never been a grub on a hook. Or a housefly in midsummer whapping its wings between romantic intentions. The world is already small, and made even smaller by what we insist upon. Like sitting down on the sheep dog’s hill and counting the hairs on both feet. Or contemplating that fantastic dung heap over there. The cows are self-satisfied with its calmness. In the meantime, imagination runs up the parchment of the hunger mountain. It is a blood-seeker that pursues you relentlessly. No matter how you picture the outcome, you’ll never shake it off. Determination is not the same thing. You love imagination just a much as you love yourself.




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