Becca Liu

Gudrid In Vinland


Gudrid was sitting in the doorway beside the cradle of her son Snorri when a shadow fell across the door and a woman entered wearing a black, close-fitting tunic; she was rather short and had a band round her chestnut-colored hair. She was pale, and had the largest eyes that have ever been seen in any human head. She walked to where Gudrid was sitting and spoke.
‘What is your name?’ she said.
‘My name is Gudrid. And what is your name?’
‘My name is Gudrid,’ she said.
Then Gudrid, Karlsefni’s wife, motioned to the woman to come and sit beside her; but at that very moment she heard a great crash and the woman vanished, and in the same instant a Skraeling was killed by one of Karlsefni’s men for trying to steal some weapons. The Skraelings fled as fast as they could, leaving their clothing and wares behind. No one had seen the woman except Gudrid.
Graenlendinga Saga from The Vinland Sagas, recounting the arrival of the first Europeans in North America circa 1000 C.E.


She crosses into the sedge whose threshold
an enclosure she crosses
out of sod and walls rising from the peat
toward the door which is dark
a yard enclosed by spiked walls of a palisade
or so a figure moving as her
shadow falls across the doorframe
she sees Gudrid seated
seeing her shadow on the threshold seabirds
all around her the largest eyes
that have ever been seen
in any human head crossing toward her
an idiotic answer
if there ever was one to lose its gather
at the cradle of her son
the first known European
born in North America beneath whose soil worms burrow
what is your name is the very finitude
we define as matter here nothing
my name is Gudrid but balsam firs
with vines across the depth of a grape she repeats
my name is Gudrid that must have been brought from elsewhere
as she motions to sit beside she crosses
and finds standing over the sheen
the skin collects
in habitude adhering to where Gudrid was not afraid
as though her headband of red cloth
were a plane and the sheen like a fish
where a small brook winds through the bog
far up the shore on the northern seaboard she mimics
the other’s speech filled
with her words who the looking is
jostling into you


She seems strange to herself
behind walls enclosing sky and space
on a whetstone at the threshold thinking softwoods
maples grape vines in the plenum
in the not yet up and extinguish the way
light is produced as earlier where I had been now
the mutable screens an aesthetic impression
of how she was to look estranged
as scintillation
as trouble keeping silent within me a protest against
the indecency
emerging from the trees
taking up of one’s position pale and chestnut-
colored in Icelandic husk and half an eggshell
on the doorstep stippled peeling off
the dwellings on their narrow terrace a hundred meters
inland overlooking the skin
the sea is housed in was there anger
was there pride was there ever
surprise at self-sown wheat across the shadows surrounding
where she bore the marks of lying down in a bog
over which a river flowed like a rock
in the rushing yet
in the spotted thought for as long as it takes the blood
across a red cloth seeping
of its own volition


And in that same instant
a great crash curious
woman to bring out bowls of milk tensile sloshing up the sides
this filament prolonging
before me who is following
had they sailed along the inlet
to bar the door against them
in a separate view
in the discovery of something already there
this extruded saliva when a great number of them came out of the wood one day
with their packs of furs sables pelts within the forest
of my own sights
they carried the milk away in their bellies
the palisade completely having thrown their packs in
over the walls for a fine big rorqual
was driven ashore
they went down and cut it up and had enough whale
for winter two thralls
composed face to face
a gap in the surface of milk separates the mouth
of two fjords the extensive
shallows reflecting back


She was spoken like a bellowing bull
to have read the felt excess

her pale face attuned in chestnut
like other Finns 
half embedded
half written in the flinging forth a cut
a thud in the air
and the air buckles
she adjusts the immanent
 to its own arising
where looking emerges thousands
of staunch tunings
the two women
such that one possesses
and is possessed of the seated darkness drawing her long
fog outward there is too much to tell you
malignant-looking and with evil hair

and neither speaks
nor begins her presence in slugging waters
rocks authored by friction
some vacant hum
pushed against
seedpods in the wind
granulated looking at each other
waving wooden poles sunwise
 and Gudrid
seated there


Then five Skraelings
a traipse of living the ground
an ungatherable within
in the airport
her headband of red cloth we shall designate
the there is commenced
a fjord of currents dogging them
on account of those who already inhabited fear and strife
the size of constellations
for what to see or what did she seem to her
to perceive how I followed after them
a shift under her feet that I should sometimes
tense in one’s environment as the tacit crosses over
to where a small contingent stayed a different latch
as an aid to me
she pulled one of her breasts out of her bodice
and slapped it with the sword and
so they made ready to laugh
for it was their intent at the sight of this
the land looked promising
that I should sometimes find
the shallow bay that must have been waiting
to send them something to eat
but the response was not as prompt
as they would have liked


Traces within myself that she might
speak to sit beside
though she were kin beside a little known
otherwise than being a stain
to which contrapuntally sprawls for they taught them to speak
regardless and to sit she snatched up the sword
and prepared to defend herself
is that for which room has been made foraging
through soil in the onward flinch
some doors descending
through the ground was often called
because of some killings
an uncontrollable tending
keeps in alacrity light within my bearing
so how can I say
I should have avoided this bright stain


Thereafter rooting towards
the memory of it
of a bowl
and not merely an idea in the mind
she had a ship built secretly at an exterior
within to collect and focus
the name that surpasses
we sought each other before we had seen each other
we embraced each other
through our names at the doorway
a ceaseless pivot through which the sprawl pervades
digging beneath her feet
gladdening the two women each into the other
rubs a mark off herself
and not off a mirror a peaceful gesture
gets nearer in sequence to bog ore seal oil a needle hone of quartzite
to each other pinned at her back
the sun defines a piece of time
yet I was against my own


Rebecca Liu’s recent poems can be found in Boston Review, VOLT, Web Conjunctions, and Gulf Coast. She is Poetry Editor of The Bare Life Review.