Mary Heebner: Island: Journal from Iceland
by I. Murphy Lewis
Casa magazine, March 3, 2006
Mary Heebner’s Island: Journal from Iceland lets us imagine coming upon a land yet undiscovered. Iceland’s “first inhabitants simply named it ‘Island.’ There are no fossils, no ‘early man,’ no human history before 850 A.D.,” writes Heebner. The experience captivated Heebner so much that she found herself entrenched in books on geography and natural history, sagas, trying to map it out, to understand its contours. As Heebner walked the island with her partner, photographer Macduff Everton, she explained, it “feels benign,” this land which straddles the Mid-Atlantic rift.
In her entry about the area of Laugahraum, Heebner sees the sensuality of the land as only a poet, an artist can, as she “scribbles across the clay.”
The landscape is female
toned flesh with soft curves.
we are two specks standing on opposite scapulae.
The space between us carries Macduff’s form but not his voice to me.
Silence is an earthenware bowl into which water is poured.
waterfalls spill from the mouth of a black slip pitcher,
and what can’t be contain scribbles across the clay table.
clay picks up a catalogue of creatures’ tracks;
webbed, cloven, Nike.
I stuff a purple stone into my pocket
as I peg my way down the ridge.
Heebner did a series of work entitled Pangaea: the goddess Ge, from where the name “geology” is derived. From Brennisteinsas:
We jump down dozens of the streams
that riddle across flat ashland,
cross meadow garmented in white flax blossom,
nuzzled by sheep.
A circular palette of young lava mountains
set knee-deep in silt
After a violent, fiery birth the cooled new earth
is a garden of color:
ochre, cadmium, violet, bitumen, chartreuse.
We are walking on the origin of color.
Matted tufts of black moss
line soft crevices
where water falls down.
Would the world be ours to discover for the first time if we all lived, as Heebner does, “walking in the origin of color?”
When she comes upon the landscape of Vik, she announces, “I am dwarfed b the span of the crenelated rock / and feel as if I were entering a gemlike geode, the sort / people place on tables next to oversized picture books / on “Nature.” From Landmannalauger, she finds soul within color itself:
A band of light teases across the surface
of warm-hued dromedary hills
and the smooth flank of the mountainside is luminous.
As clouds part, sunlight spots the entire mountain
and my eye shifts to a bigger frame that includes
the adjacent hills still in shadow.
Color resonates in this world of contrast.
without it the scene washes out, has no mood, becomes ordinary.
Colors find their soul in relation to each other.
the dirtiest colors possess the oldest souls.
They sink towards blackness,
sound out of a recipe too dense and accumulative to recite,
like the darks along the edges of a riverbank
or the places where flesh folds.
If we found our soul in relation to each other, as colors do, would our inner world, our outer actions, display the colors of the rainbow as the wilderness does? Not burning up the world with hubris as Zeus’ son riding the chariot across the sky? With Heebner as a guide we can only seek to find out.