Svið – A Poem

A poem from my forthcoming poetry collection which I hope to launch in Iceland later this year. (This sheep head eating experience was during my brief stint of eating meat. My diet is plant based again these days.) WordPress doesn’t like poetry, so it’s presented differently to how it will be in the book – my apologies! You can find a more accurate version on my Facebook.


“Never did I expect to taste such a barbaric dish as a sheep’s head. But a decade later there it was on my plate, looking up at me with a sorrowful glaze in its eyes.” – Lara Webber (Chicago Tribune)

I’ve never felt as touristy

as when I hefted a cleaved sheep’s head

from a deep freeze in Krónan

with a mixture of excitement

and apprehension.

(Except, perhaps, when I tried to use an umbrella

when the rain came down on Laugavegur).

I’m cooking it with a wild-eyed, wild-haired Icelander

who’s been sleeping in my bed for a week.

It’s sometime late afternoon.

It’s hard to tell without looking at a clock

as the dark is still rife in Reykjavík.

We’re at that time where its tradition to eat gross stuff,

though our Þorrablót is missing rams testicles, whale blubber,

headcheese, fermented shark and a wooden trough

to eat it all from.

‘I’ve never had Svið before,’ you say, as we stand at the hob,

poking the two halves of the sheep’s face with forks.

I don’t disguise my shock. ‘But I know it’s ready when it’s soft.’

We dump the halved heads on our plates.

Meat jostles off the jaw bones. It stinks.

‘I don’t know where to begin,’ I say.

Wikipedia tells me to start from the front,

and work my way to the back.

So I angle my knife and fork

around the bones of the skull.

It’s like I’ve never used cutlery before.

There should be rhubarb jelly to hand.

It’s said to be delicious with sheep cheek meat.

I eat the milky blue eyeball. It pops softly

like I read it would. It isn’t pleasant.

It tastes like something that isn’t supposed to be eaten.

Though, it’s the best part according to the older generation.

The Icelander opposite me doesn’t eat his eyeball.

He’s stalling more than I am.

Eating the tongue feels all kinds of wrong.

After a while, I give up. I feel defeated.

I bring my heavy plate to the sink,

fill the bowl with water.

I pull off all the meat I didn’t eat,

which is most of it.

The water in the sink grows oily,

my hands slippery.

The multicoloured string of lights

from the neighbour’s house catches my attention,

but doesn’t stop me from thinking

of how I’m disappointed for not enjoying sheep’s face

like I enjoy harðfiskur and rúgbrauð.

When the bones come out the dishwasher,

I realise we cooked the faces of two different sheep,

for when we place them together, the half-moon

holes are impossible to align.

*Svið – Singed sheep’s head

*Krónan – A grocery store

*Laugavegur – The main street in Reykjavík

*Þorrablót – Midwinter festival

*Harðfiskur – Dried fish

*Rúgbrauð – Rye bread

5 thoughts on “Svið – A Poem”

  1. Hello its Peter your swedish friend.
    Hope everything is good.

    Take care

    Fuck Borås

  2. So vivid. Wow. I can almost experience it.
    Back to plant-based.
    Brilliant and vivid words that invoke the feelings and time.

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