Karen An-hwei Lee
Meditation on hakarl in Reykjavik
Over our lunch, Phong mentions hakarl –
raw shark fermented by a sand burial,
tasted with a glass of liquid fire in Iceland
during the month of Thor. Skinned slabs
of shark on string and wire at a flea market
or cubed on toothpicks for tasting – hakarl
and a shot of distilled spirits, the brennivin
of black death clear as a glacial spring.
I guess hakarl shares a reputation not unlike
durian of creamy stench banned from hotels
in Bangkok and Singapore. Open a window,
close the lid, say a frozen prayer in the land
of ice and volcanoes. See your breath in the air
as images of hakarl recall those elegant scenes
from Babette’s Feast, where the sisters dry
wild fish near the sea until a refugee arrives.
What do the reclusive sisters eat for supper?
Dry fish soaked in water. Bread soaked in ale.
After winning the lottery, Babette cooks a feast
worth the entire winnings, and no one except
a former suitor with epaulettes appreciates
the cost of her sacrifice. Hakarl was not a part
of the sumptuous banquet – the film was Danish
and the chef was Français at the Café Anglais.
All this to say, nevertheless, maybe tomorrow
I will fly to Reykjavik for a new way of life.
Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. Lee also wrote two chapbooks, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe 2002) and What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press 2014). Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series, published in New York and London. Currently, she serves in the university administration at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, U.S. Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle. Her poems appear globally in journals and anthologies published in New Zealand, U.K., Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Hong Kong, and Singapore.