by Megan Willome
One of the joys of reading and writing in community with Project Redux has been seeing my
beloved heart book through others’ eyes. Caitlin Dwyer noticed the fire in the very first chapter
in a way I hadn’t. So while rereading the book past year, I took a cue from her and paid attention to fire in the story: where it rises up and where it burns out, sooner or later (as Simon says).
Alternating refrains call for a villanelle, so that’s the form I chose. I did not follow the proper
rhyme scheme, only the repetition (and I let mine go on a little too long, like this book). Because Kristin Lavransdatter often repeats but doesn’t always rhyme. So much of this book is messy.
Just like I am messy — trying to make sense of my life, writing the same words over and over. I
am a woman on fire, crying onto my own flint as I try to rekindle flame in my empty hearth.
When Kristin leaves Jorundgaard for good, I finally start to like her. When she is only The
Widow Kristin, capable of joining a convent but not of becoming a nun. When she discovers the
mob of men bent on burying a child alive to end the plague and screams, “I am like you.” When
she realizes her passionate, messy marriage has forever marked her as bound to the Virgin Mary
and to God.
Hers is a fire that only new snow can quench. That’s what falls on Ulf and Sira Eiliv as they
walk away from her deathbed. The words echo a scene from 690 pages earlier. Snowy payoff;
I believe that in her afterlife Kristin at last goes into the heart of the mountain, to dwell forever
with the Mountain King. Where fire is free to play and be happy, to love.
Love Is Fire
a villanelle in Kristin’s voice
The campfire had almost died, but I poked it
to life with a stick. The elf maiden beckoned.
All fires burn out sooner or later.
From the moment Erlend touched me, I was aflame.
The sagas say it’s not a romance unless something burns.
Fire rose up, burned its mark forever onto my finger.
The fire between him and his brother, the priest,
cooled to embers before they parted, for even
the fire of brotherhood burns out sooner or later.
There was always a storm when Erlend was around.
I saw the cross on fire, alive and moving. He rushed in,
and fire rose up, consuming my childhood church.
The cookhouse fire at Husaby extinguished
the morning the soldiers arrested Erlend.
His ancestral fire did burn out sooner or later.
I was a neglectful mother. My twins were wild!
Only Simon could speak sense to them.
Fire rose up in the goat shed, but they chopped it out.
I was a cruel wife. Erlend was wholly mine after he lost
Husaby, but I let my heart grow cold.
My fire for him burned out. Sooner and later.
Simon loved me—always loved me. He thought
about me for twenty years. How did I fail to see
how fire rose up in him and burned him to death?
When my flint was useless after too many tears
I knew it was time to leave with the beggars.
Sooner or later even homefires burn out.
I carried a torch into a cemetery and a hovel,
became fireweed, spread red tassels everywhere.
Fire in me blazed up, poured out in dark red haze.
I am inside the mountain, where fire ever rises up,
where the Mountain King ensures it never burns out —