Odin, The Man Fish and the Trickster God

Who can conjugate madness, shadows, apparitions from the untime of legend and myth–from the world always next to the commonest, simplest scenes of everyday life. Who can know the margin, the boundaries of it?

Myth, eternal recurrence.
      Near at hand in the everyday.

In our town of Vicoberg, Minnesota at the edge of dreams and prairie, old Norwegian immigrants have asked, from time to time in time, “Who and what have we brought with us from the fjord depths, the maelstroms, the pine dark of our North?”

We do not believe the cynical historian who said, “The people in Vicoberg believe all significant history occurred somewhere else.”

That week this was somewhere else!

That week our little town seemed to stand alone, anchored in tides of blue wind–a wind that–at its edges–had become one with the sky itself.

A vastness, a blur of boundary between earth and sky that week.

I am only a shifty braggart, a fool. But listen if you dare. It is madness; it is true!

Loki Lokensgard (the son of the clever founder of this town) was always quite crazy. He had a face like a crescent moon and eyes like a hawk in a trap. They say he was born in the old icehouse down by the river and suffered a chilled brain. For his own reasons or for no reason at all, he chose that week in which to make a sudden friendship with the one they called O. O? “O what?” people asked but did not get an answer.

Sudden and impossible was this befriending.

One morning just last week the two of them (in the ancient Buick car with its gleaming yellow shell and fins like cut rays of sun) came to the grease rack at the filling station. Above the station and the grease rack the antique tin sign with the red Pegasus on it banged in the wind. But could not fly.

O sat at the helm of the car in swart wide hat and gray kirtle and silky blue cape–the kirtle slung aside to reveal words in gold letters: MYSELF TO MYSELF

Loki wiggled and twisted in the back of the great hulk of the car. Laughed and cried, “You are O, are you not?”

“Yes,” said O.

“And you claim a divinity, do you not?”

“Yes,” said O.

“Then shall we have the station man raise us a little toward heaven?”

“Yes,” said O.

The station man did not laugh. In his terror, his teeth clacked like a ratchet wrench as he raised the hydraulic hoist. The hoist, hissing like deep-throat serpent, raised the two of them up. The owner burned in his face with anger and his heart blackened with hatred for the great yellow thing rising above him.

Yet he did make the sun rise by raising the yellow car skyward.

Then, with a heave of a lever, the car came down…

“Sunrise! Sunset!” the two of them cried out of the windows of the car.

O hurtled the sun disk yellow body of the car down the blue snow, wolves and patrol cars howling in its wake.

To the white church in a time when churches were white.

Loki had adorned himself with the velvet suit of a dragon. His belly was wide, deep, green, low. His face had a long jaw with white bone teeth. As noted, O wore blue: overall, kyrtle and wide blue hat. Saints stood off, lamp-eyed in the church windows. Loki made one disappear–and come back.

Pastor Huggenvik came out of his study, asked the two what they meant by such a visit.

O said: “I have come again far across the grass where the blue snow meets the azure sky. In this tedious world of sin, et cetera, I will make a New Man, a new creation. Out of water and wind it will come…”

“A new creation,” Pastor Huggenvik said, his voice an echo in the choir loft. He had seen much of life and death. He stood unafraid, a shock of white hair tumbled off his head and over his eyes.

O stepped up into the pulpit, rose up and down on his toes, read the palms of his hands. “Know this,” he cried. “We too are fishers of men. We shall make us a somewhat man out of water soon and he will not be called Adam…”

“Take a bow,” Loki said and took one himself. His pants split when he did that. His ass was twin purple moons.

“Why do you wear gold rings about your neck?” the pastor asked O.

“Because I am married to me, to my destiny. And like Him–the Old Father, the One of Three invisible here–I had a son who died. Do you find this sacrilegious?”

“No,” the pastor said. “I only find it sad.”

“Do you find it outrageous that I stand in the pulpit and challenge the Creator?”

“Of course,” the pastor said.

O stood down from the pulpit. Took a stand below the great empty cross above the altar.

“He–the Jesus– and I know the tree,” he said to the pastor.

“Ah, yes–the cross.”

“It is empty but once was full!” O said, then he bent his crooked neck and twisted face and wept.

Then he ran down nave, dangled the bell rope around his neck, lolled his tongue out.

The pastor was angry. “Enough is enough!” he cried.

“But my enough is not enough!” Odin cried.

He pointed a finger up at the old wooden cross.

“Is His enough?” he asked.

“Yes,” the pastor replied. “His once was enough!”

” I am not given a just once. I recur.”

“No one will believe this,” the pastor said.

“Blessed is he who has not seen and yet believes,” Loki replied and then the two of slipped out a rear door of the church and danced out to the yellow car, which seemed to be floating in the field.

Then they drove the sun car to the lake, to Big Norge Lake where…

O leaped out of the car–in a cape, capering–one eye blear, inflamed; one a glinting marble.

His blue cape and gray kirtle swung like flag of sky loosed from heaven.

Loki flew out a window, sat on the bullrush shore.

“O, let us make us a man–a new, improved version!”

Yes. Yes. Profane, sacrilegious to some, but not to him.

Not to Loki–scheming, scrabbling the logos, the Word, in his own diabolic way.

He had not given birth to man or horse or daughter or bird for centuries. He ached with a dull belly ache. Remembered giving viviparous birth to Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse O rode with the speed of light. Remembered in his womb mind metamorphoses: wolf, bird, horse, fish, bee.

“Yes, yes, let us get to it!” O cried.

Loki pushed his moon face into the water on the beach, turned all mud-faced , began:

I wish to romp, swim, dive in the procreant urge of creation. I am not Frankenstein, a mere baron, a barren baron finally. It. Him. Stumbling about in his ice-bound Arctic. I do not wish to give birth to anything. I shall find me a man–ex utero–though it may take ages for it to walk in tall beauty on the earth. I shall begin in the water. Helper I need–one with one good eye or more.”

He paused, flapped heron wings.

“You, O–The one with whom I have sworn brotherhood. Did they not–the old Icelanders– call Loki Mit-Odin or With-Odin?

Out of water a mighty wind of creation. Dar wind.

Norge Lake rising, swallowing all kinds of assumptions.

Fools who named the once-little lake–they asked for irony.

“So?” O replied.

“Here I catch and make human the Fish Man.”

“So you will not require a fishing license?”

“I am purely and utterly lawless!”

“Now?’

“Now.”

Then Loki walked him down to the water edge, slid into the water like an eel, his body gliding out in a serpent glide into the water, gliding out past the whip of rushes in the wind, howling, howling, then raising his head so it was the serpent head of a ship…

“Histrionics!” Odin cried.

“Many things began with the serpent! I was never clear which appeared first in that place: it or Adam!” Loki cried, his voice a slithering of reedy syllables. “I imitate and I mock. Anything the old Father can do, et cetera!”

Then Loki did a long glide up on the shore. Shook himself out of a serpent’s skin…

Stood up, turned and raised his hands over the water.

“And I am pleased!: he cried. “I am pleased.”

“And?” Odin asked.

“I see that you and I have an interrogative relationship.”

“So?”

“You must have faith.”

“I have faith the wolves will come on Ragnarok.”

“Have intermediate faith.”

“As you wish.”

As they spoke, an 18-foot fishing boat, loose and derelict from someone’s dock was drifting toward them. Its fishing rods whistled like tall antennas in the wind. Norge Lake had flooded to three times its early size and sprawled out into 122,000 acres of water. By a certain arrangement of things there was not a soul near .

“Wide and empty is the water,” said Loki. He turned his face toward Odin and said, “He–that He of the churches–had no witness for his creation–not one. Seven days of creation, he said. A mendacious telescoping of time, eternity!”

“You could fail.”

Loki did not answer.

“Here go deep to bring him up,” Loki said as the two of them rowed the boat out on the path of the water.

“Deep? Here?” Odin replied. “I think you speak shallow. There is no deep more than the deep of a tree, a barn top, a silo tube.”

” Deep? Here? That beak of a nose is a forever question mark for the entire universe,” Loki replied, smirking his thin frog mouth and swigging a warm beer left in the boat….

“Troll?” Odin cried.

“Bad pun,” Loki said. “You are so serious you could be one of the Lutherans in this place.”

“Luther understood devils,” Odin said as they rowed out on the water.

“We shall observe trinity,” said Loki. “Therefore let us dangle treble hooks down into the place of the deep. Invoke the trinity with them.”

“Sacrilege.”

“Where is he?” Odin asked, pointing down into the dim ooze below them where dark branches, strangled by water, reached toward them.

“He lingers near a house made by hands deep in the Man Fish Town.”

“Town?”

“No wind and yet we move,” said Loki.

“None we can see,” Odin said.

“Ah, but here we are,” Loki said, waving at the loons whistling shrill derision at the boat.

Odin looked down into the water. There in a great yaw of a depth saw a sunken dim tower reaching toward the light.

“It is a fault, “Loki said”–a great fault in the creation. The hydro men missed it in their risk assessment of the lake. It is a deep place, a geological whim into which a church has drifted on spring tides.”

“Church?”

“The Stavanger Church,” said Loki. “It is postdeluvian. Part of my theo-drama.”

Odin looked down into the water. Saw it and believed.

“Big treble, big rod now!” Loki said. He handed Odin a long-shanked rod. Reel big as a truck winch. Loki held the boat steady with the oars. “He’s down there,” Loki said, his words squeaked with his joy terror. “He wishes to be pulled up, to dance on his tail right into the morning sun. He wishes for accelerated e-volution!”

Odin made a cast. Whoot! Out went the heavy line, the big reel squee-squee-squeeing. Hooked many things at first: barbed wire that whipped hissing about the boat; a sheet of building plaster that veiled the sun when it flew over them.

“He is mad for the light–mad for the light!” Loki cried.

“We have no bait, no lure meat!” Odin cried.

“The treble hook is bait enough for him. He is fasting!”

Odin pulled back on the hard tug of something on the line. Snagged some thing that cranked back in great wide tugs. The boat dipped on one side, splashed water over the gunwale.

“By Thor, we have the Him-It hooked!” Loki cried.

The line cut the water with a hot, buzzing noise. The reel snarled, went hot as Odin fought the outward howl of the line. The boat moved in circles and the circles moved heavily.

“See him! See him!” Loki cried. “We’ve hooked him , we have!”

A dull clank deep below.

“He tugs at the church rope!” Loki cried.

The circling of it closed around the boat and the pulses of its tugging slowed, slowed.

“See what I have done!” Loki cried waving a landing net over the spiny tingle and ride of the line.

It surfaced, planing clumsily on its small waves. Odin heaved hard on the line, his bad eye bulged and shining, his face twisted on the pain at his arms.

As the creature torpedoed slowly along the boat Odin saw the pale white snout, the deep, sad eyes pinched with fear and pain. Saw the hooks barbed through the sleek, rubbery wet skin of its back.

And wept, wept.

It rode with slow-quivered resignation alongside the boat. Tall as any man it was and silver-green and sleek in the light.

It rose up over of the steeple of the sunk church, lay in against the boat, a whimper in its belly.

Loki leaned over, pulled Him-It–Fish over the edge of the gunwale, cut out the two barbs of the treble hook, pushed the barbs out so there was no wound, only two small marks like the snake fangs make.

Fish was quiet, aching with sky, while Loki cut out the hooks.

“Squeeze-eyed, weepy-eyed thing this is!” Odin yelled.

“Genesis Fish, Alpha Fish! I have found you!” Loki cried into the fish face.

Swat! The tail slapped hard on Loki’s nose. Then by some wild dexterity it stood up in the boat, pressed two flippers low on its belly around Loki.

“He stands! He stands in the creation!” Loki cried.

They wrestled, threshed about kicking and flap dancing, the snout of Fish wagging at the sun until the two, tight in embrace, fell over the gunwale edge and disappeared.

Then for Odin the path of the water was wide and empty. A stab of lightning flashed across the key; thunder cracked on the loft of a cloud just above the boat, then hushed into gray silence.

Until.

Until.

Cormorant flew into the boat, flapped its wings, flapped its arms and was Loki.

“That was his moment in the sun!” he cried, his nose a dissolving beak, the oily pelt of his skin drying…

“You have brought him up, up in the creation! “

“Why he would climb up and walk down the avenues of the sun if he could. In due time, in due time. Meanwhile I have made us fishers of the Man Fish. the eel-skinned Adam of the Water.”

“In Minnesota?”

“In the New World I have made him.”

“And, does he have a soul?”

“Soul? He has his own church below us, does he not!”

“You, sir, are dangerous to know,” Odin said, glancing upward at the great thundercloud hanging above them.

“I shall always wrestle with His creation! It is my fate. But long centuries will run until Fish is man or god.”

“Old Adam took ages to walk–ages windhewn as the stone towers in the Badlands…”

“But this one is solitary, a creature of sorrows–a citizen, a freak in a town, a doom town!”

“So we have meddled?”

“And shall again. “

Miles of quiet–quiet as a turtle’s breath or the white of a dead man’s teeth.

Suddenly Loki spun out of the boat, broke out in the feathered body of the grebe, danced on his kicking feet like a grebe in courtship, then flew away, away…

A gray wind huffed out of the deep water and began to drive the boat toward shore. Odin rode it, his good eye watching the angry flash of lightning on the face of the water. Below him drowned trees nodded oozy heads in the passing of the boat. The wake of the boat divided the water. Odin bowed his head under the hammers of thunder.

On the hill his yellow car had moved on westward, but he pursued it, took it because it was his.

In the far west the dark. Down the dark the howling and the tree.

 

About John Solensten

John Solensten has published novels, short stories and poetry. THE MUSIC TEACHER is based on Schubert's "The Trout."

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