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Susannah Lee’s poems were inspired by Carmelite nuns who, in the 1990s, journeyed from Iceland to the Arctic Circle to build a monastery. An independent producer for public radio and film, Lee was a Fulbright-Hays scholar in Portugal. Her radio stories have aired on NPR, PRI and Monitor Radio, and her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Seneca Review, Sonora Review and Nine Mile Magazine.
Votive Notes of Tannin and Blue
From WTP Vol. IX #8
We crossed from Iceland to the Arctic circle
despite warnings of inclemency,
each night unveiling at sundown as we were schooled
& slid into the chink of dusk & melancholy.
It has been my habit to embrace what I fear—
loneliness, darkness, cold, especially cold,
and wind them into my devotions. Oh
yes! and distraction plagues me too, which is why
I have assumed the role of scribe,
for when we grow older than memory.
Now and again my illuminations dry
with one stray hair pressed in the oil & cadmium…
In winter, we bow to the nordic darkness
of smelt and herring bone spines on the icy sea
slapping the barque’s sure underbelly.
Last year, I was impervious to extinction.
But come this spring, if you can call it spring,
as if suctioned from peat centuries
before I am meant to be found, hands folded
at my shallow chest in supplication —
I am, as it turns out, a good supplicant
always asking, asking again and again —
I will be returned to my bed of muskeg
still tawny like the owl that visits my dreams.
After evensong I am nearly stone deaf with song and seal my lips
with unguents to gentle my body for preservation and sleep.
On that first night I heard thunder that would fracture
my skull from its very veins, and later my heart.
In the dark this night I turn to my sisters,
and summon the litanies of ice and smoke welling within us.