The Jelling Stones
When Gorm the Old put up the first of these
two runestones for his wife, the land was pagan.
They’re under glass these days. A little church
has stood beside them for a thousand years.
His son put up the second, bigger stone:
Harald Bluetooth, thinking of his parents.
And this stone says he made Denmark and Norway
his, made the Danes Christian. There is Christ
entangled on its face above those runes,
yet folks have thought of Odin on his tree
to see Christ, arms outstretched, thus trapped in curls.
The bright paint’s almost gone, but those who read
the runes or images will learn of Harald.
Another face shows what may be a snake,
a lion in its toils. The runes beneath
do not interpret. And the little church
can’t tell you who these creatures are. They stood
beneath the sky of Jutland long enough
to shed the meaning they once had. The snake
may have the upper hand, but they’re not done.
John Claiborne Isbell
Since 2016, various MSS of John’s have placed as finalist or semifinalist for The Washington Prize (three times), The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes (twice), the Elixir Press 19th Annual Poetry Award, The Gival Press Poetry Award, the 2020 Able Muse Book Award (twice) and the 2020 Richard Snyder Publication Prize. John published his first book of poetry, Allegro, in 2018, and has published in Poetry Durham, threecandles.org, the Jewish Post & Opinion, and The Ekphrastic Review. He has published books with Oxford and with Cambridge University Press and appeared in Who’s Who in the World. He also once represented France in the European Ultimate Frisbee Championships. He retired this summer from The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, where he taught French and German and coached men’s and women’s ultimate. His wife continues to teach languages there.
The Ekphrastic Review
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