Translated from Icelandic by K.B. Thors
the window shaggy with hoarfrost the window ledge as well frozen solid the glass the woman was to drink from the quilt near froze fast to the wall not a teaspoon to feed the baby nothing but frozen oatmeal where was water to be heated? where to dry clothes for the baby and woman? She was born for this to help and console help and soothe the sores of others lighten pain and suffering she went proffering herself to comfort and strengthen ready and willing to nurse and care for all those who sighed under the heavy cross of illness she was not not a seer when it came to the secret ways of the soul rarely surprised by major tidings sensed many things saw through walls and woods and hills saw further many things went as she expected though things looked bad despite many kinds of difficulty and much toil conditions all imperfect hygiene less than ideal though things did not look promising though the worst was expected though there were close calls no woman died nothing ever went wrong women never died not one woman not a single woman in labor no woman perished no woman passed away in her hands no woman died and doctors never sought (doctors were few anyway) never did she have a mishap women never died except for one woman in childbed only one woman one unbaptized child only three newborn babies two or three stillborn only one time was the ending sad somewhere in her possession she had a tiny box full of small paper slips and verses or poem scrap scrawled in pencil on each one these lines sought to flow forth like the spring under rock or straw through soil later when time allowed she arranged some of these together in a poem
- Composed from memoirs and biographies of Icelandic midwives working through the 19th and 20th centuries, Herostories forgoes sagas of conquest to center the adventures of ljósmæður, “mothers of light.”
From gender-based battles for education to narratives of selfless womanly caretaking, Herostories’ found poems explore tensions between feminine self-actualization and romanticized service, documenting the island’s first women to work outside the home — precursors to today’s midwives who remain central to Icelandic healthcare.