Jan/Feb 2012 Poetry

On Being Mistaken for Part of the Entourage of the President of Iceland

by John Branscum

On Being Mistaken for Part of the Entourage of the President of Iceland

She traveled to Louisville
to cut a deal
concerning fish.
It was my lunchtime
and I was smoking
on the steps of City Hall
waiting for her long black
limousine because I'd never seen
a president before
and couldn't remember
whether it was Greenland that's cold
and Iceland that's warm
or the other way around.
I was not the only one
waiting. Besides me, there were four
old ladies—members of an arcane
Icelandic appreciation society
whose grandmothers and grandfathers
had combed the Icelandic waves
in their native long underwear
with nets made of hunger.

At eighteen, I was intentionally
freakish from the nuclear flash
of my bleached white hair
to my Vlad the Impaler riding boots
(I was not aware that I resembled
a dandelion gone bad)
so I happily expected
the old ladies to pitch disdain at me
like stale crumpets
but, exhibiting that strange second
breath of naiveté and innocence
which occurs in the very old
and the very stoned,
in their minds my strange
attire testified that I had come
an evangelist to speak to them
of Iceland.

Cooing, the old ladies flew toward me
like pigeons after peanuts.
They wanted to know if I spoke English
and I told them that I did in an accent
of my own devising.
"And your trip?" They asked. "How was it?"
"Very fine," I said. "I came in
on an experimental aircraft
shaped like a spoon."
Their bags lifted in surprise
and they smiled tentatively as if
taking the first bite
of something sweet.
"Really?" They asked.
"No, really," I said and touched
two of their arms below their elbows.
"In Iceland," I continued,
"it's not as it is here.
We live at one with nature.
and in the evening
when we press our mouths
to the flowers and kiss them,
they kiss back.
During breakfast time,
the trees vie for their fruit
to be picked and so the air
always smells of peach
and orange.
We are too busy
making love to fight.
Though we have different faiths,
we worship in the same garden.
Our workday is four hours long."

As I finish, the eyes of the old
ladies cloud over like pies
left cooling on window sills
facing a bright blue afternoon
in which angels appear.
One of them stifles a sob
(or perhaps it's a laugh).
At any rate, at that moment,
the limousine arrives and I beat
a hasty retreat before I disappoint them.
But back inside, in the bathroom
where I splash water on my face,
I am surprised to find I don't feel clever
over my ruse—in fact, I can't help
but cry: O Iceland, O Iceland.


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