Flying north west to Reykjavik we kept pace
with the sunset – its reds, its oranges,
its prism of blues – but landed in darkness.
We were coached to our hotel past concrete
apartments, advertisement hoardings,
and neon lit diners that could have been
the outskirts of any large developing town.
Iceland has the landmass of Ireland,
the population of Coventry,
most of whom live in Reykjavik –
a calm, civic, prosperous, caring place
with its galleries, museums, libraries,
concert hall, university, and
hot water pumped from the geysers inland.
Nevertheless, surrounded by volcanoes,
we felt close to some northernmost frontier.
Its centre has the charm of San Francisco’s
North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39.
We walked downhill to the old harbour
past wooden houses, expensive shops,
elegant graffiti, and steep cross streets.
On the pavement by the public library
was a waterlogged paperback copy
of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.
Until the Celts and the Vikings came –
westering exiles, chancers, pilgrims;
seafarers and storytellers; thralls,
nobles, and the odd priest – the only mammal
was the arctic fox, here since the last ice age.
We left for the airport in daylight.
The landscape – deforested by all
the mammals except the fox – seemed tundra-like:
the rich, volcanic top soil exposed
against a backdrop of snowy mountains.
We flew along the southern coast eastwards.
When the city ends, there is only
the occasional homestead before the ocean
rolls below in sunlight, waters that might break
suddenly with imaginary whales
after we have passed – for we saw none
on our half-day excursion from Reykjavik
out into the North Atlantic’s gunmetal
grey spraying us, pitching us, bucking us.
Our tickets remain valid for future trips
forever until we see at least one
Blue, Humpback, Minke, Orcha or Sperm whale –
an honourable, optimistic deal.