“The Vikings Between Us” by Erik Campbell

Erik Campbell


It’s important to think periodically
of the Vikings, so often having to

glance at the water to see ships rowing
into port that look like their own, but

sometimes aren’t. Here there be dragons,
friends, so no Middle Ages mist is needed,

nor the death-beat sound of distant drums.
How candidly and dreadfully those ships

rowed onto shore, as though the tide were
in on the joke, as if it were a homecoming

of sorts. And 1,000 years later she says
she left her husband because she could

never tell what he was thinking, and I
said that’s what you think, without thinking.

Neither of us knew much at the time, only
that it was dark and that we longed for warm,

rudderless breath on our necks because
something important had failed us both.

The night became a sadness of imagination
from there, and ended in a bed because we

couldn’t agree on the Vikings between us,
even if they were rowing toward us or no.

from Rattle #67, Spring 2020


Erik Campbell: “One afternoon in the summer of 1994 I was driving to work and I heard Garrison Keillor read Stephen Dunn’s poem ‘Tenderness’ on The Writer’s Almanac. After he finished the poem I pulled my car over and sat for some time. I had to. That is why I write poems. I want to make somebody else late for work.”

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