[How I Set Her Down] by Arra Ross

It came to so a pass that they would not name God. Thus it happened that they lost the name of God.
–       Snorri Sturleson, Prose Edda


How I set her down
inside the ship, gently

on bedstraw, still sweet
from the gathering, on washed lambs’ wool.

I whispered go home
to the bones.





[Fig. 3
The images in the Oseberg tapestries are often unclear,
but clear enough to suggest that what is being portrayed
should be viewed in a ritual context.]





I dug the small eggs from her scalp
and plaited her hair in the old patterns

The seal’s bark, I named her,
and smeared red ochre on her limbs.

I had a daughter, once.





[Fig. 6 Some of the fragments in this group
appear to come from the clothes the dead were buried in.
Fine blue fragments with seams appear to be from a gown.]





I named you yarrow-in-bloom.

I named you light-inside-the-rye.

I wrap the ties around the ankles of her calf-skin boots.
The seam folded over and sewn.

I placed amber on her tongue.
I marked the blue dress:







Once named, all gods
become human,

just as a child, named,
will not be put out

on the hill:







[Figure 13. Only the red has kept well and still has
a fresh carmine color. This color appears so often
it appears it was the main color.]







The white cow lay down in the field
where the new hay was cut in stripes.

The white cow lay down in the field.

The green sea-wrack moved in the waves
around my ankles.

The white cow lay down in the field.

Beside the road, a woman lifted a boy into a cart,
his hair still wet, laughing.

The white cow lay down in the field.







[Fig. 5 From the children remain small metal bells, bone whistles,
a wooden doll’s foot that hums when the legs are whirred.]







Unh, unh.

My milk let down.


Inside her mouth,
I placed a leaf of mistletoe,

which first, I bruised
between my teeth.

I put handfuls in the fire
until smoke rolled through the fog.







[Fig. 9 The pyre cooled on the third day. The heat disintegrated the
skeleton. Nearly all that remained was calcium. Among the charcoal and
soot: molten lumps and metal, glass drops, cracked stone objects. ]







Above the urn, we lay a layer of sand.

A layer of clay, a layer of gravel.

We covered it with turf. A layer of sand,

a layer of clay, a layer of turf, until

your mountain was made.


I named you bead inside the clay.

I named you clay urn, crushed bones.







[Fig. 5 Certain bones were selected. Not everything was included.
No one knows what happened to the other remains of the pyre.]







Girls were running in the hills, laughing,
and you laughed, too, touching the horns of the black cow.

You did not see the butterfly
rise from her horns

and then you knew
it was there.     Blind daughter,







who touched the print of hooves dried hard in the dirt.




I did not show her how
two ants carried the soft yellow corpse of a caterpillar over the gravel.







Back at the dunes, I put her on my lap
though she was too big for it.

I want to go there, she said.




[Fig. 23 . . . It is possible that the literary motif of the swan-shaped Valkyrjar
does have a root in some older and/or parallel conceptions of belief,
comprising some type of long-necked bird as a supernatural being guiding the dead
on their journey into the afterlife.]







Our skirts floated up our legs.

She had grown tall, her neck a slender twig,

her nipples jutting from rib-bones.

I began to sing so she could hear

the softness in the water,


so she could open her mouth for the salted air.



We went under.

It was hard to leave the surface of things.

The water wanted to push us up.


She cupped one hand over her ear,

released it, cupped it again.

The flash and flicker of sun, of shadow, our


bones dissolved.



Hair that unplaits itself in my hands.



bring this old woman out to sit in the sun.


Arra Lynn Ross is the author of Sweetlip and Sweet Apple (Milkweed Editions). She lives in Michigan, where she teaches creative writing and runs the Voices in the Valley Reading Series. She also works with puppetry and three-dimensional forms to explore poetry in new ways.