A Brief History of The Viking Conquest of America
H. Tavel


Big Ole walked across the sea from Norway to Newfoundland, said Father, on stilts of glass, on legs hacked from a forest of ice-trees. He left behind a fat wife with a face scorched and dull as an old copper pot, a herd of ramshackle goats, and a bevy of children who would not shut their pie-holes. Halfway across the sea he met Harald the Mad, who was headed back the other way with his bride atop his head. The bridal veil gathered bluefins in its mesh, and two virginal blonde braids skimmed the foamy swells.
Two monoliths met in the middle of the sea, said Father. Do I even need to mention that their torsos were epic?
After the house burned down we pitched a tent on the front lawn, until in high summer the polar ice caps melted and the green lawns of Beetown sailed away, a flotilla of diminishing green rectangles propped up with flags and fancy cakes. Older Brother, Younger Brother and I slept with our feet burnt brown as toast sticking out the tent flaps, and the next morning gypsies were wearing my white Sunday shoes. What could we do, but sway?
In the night Father dreamed a wind god into being: seen in flat profile, it unfurled its pale blue locks, puffed out its pale blue cheeks, and blew. During the day it slept, soft as an old sock, a nest of curlicues hovering above us letting off a gentle old-man wheeze. Ignoring the protestations of Older Brother and I, Younger Brother sat on a branch of the tallest tree and poked at it with the wrong end of a fishing pole. A thread of indignation uncoiled from above. Younger Brother reached up and gave it a yank.
Younger Brother called down to us: Fetch the butterfly net! We found it leaning against the old crumbling wall, damp and greenly fuzzy. He scooped the bluish puff into the net and siphoned it into a mason jar. Years later Older Brother, attending the Grand Exposition with a tugboat in one hand and a drawbridge in the other, would see it, the mason jar, alongside countless identical others, sitting at the feet of a ruined man with a label that read: Overstayed its Welcome.

(Father was a beekeeper. What else?)


Older Brother took a comb and made one clean part down the center of his skull. Stinking of Brylcreem and Flor Finas, he glad-handed his way through the Great Depression, all slow plaid and fresh prairie armpit. He spent his off hours knee deep in mud, flinging his coat over a mudpuddle that stretched from Embarrass to Bad Axe. And they came, they came! In gingham and starched white bonnets, in smart skirt sets with silky jabots, in calico, in galoshes, in panniers, with spit curls peeking from beneath pilot caps, eyelashes flicking the eye side of snug goggles, tethered to the wings of biplanes, their striped scarves flowing straight out behind them. On horseback, on tandem bicycles, on penny-farthings, dangling from ornithopters they came, in Model Ts, Groucho riding shotgun, Harpo in the boot. The cinema! Dizzy with the contraptionariness of it all, Older Brother rolled up his shirtsleeves, married and divorced a librarian named Marian, and rolled up a cornfield behind him.
Plunder and pillage! cried Father.


Big Ole lifted his brass-banded foot from the sea and planted it deep into the white rocky shores of Newfoundland. He shook off the sea and began walking. Once he arrived in a forest clearing, he rubbed a stick and a piece of flint together and produced a blue flame. The flame leapt into the air and froze solid. Big Ole rubbed a stick and a piece of flint together and produced another blue flame. This flame too leapt into the air and froze solid. Big Ole sat on a tree stump and wept, and each tear froze to a deep, coruscating blue. In just over an hour Big Ole had produced enough frozen blue flames and frozen blue tears to craft a glorious blue chandelier. He hung it in the sky over the Upper Peninsula. His heart flopped like a fish.
Father's dreams of cold northern seas began seeping into the edges of that failing summer, so Older Brother went out into the world of black shoes and hijacked a coach-and-four. There it sat among the weeds and rusted-up pitchforks like a shiny black tortoise, wise and simmering. In those days Younger Brother was a ragamuffin in denim overalls sitting on a fencepost in a farmyard next to a haystack and the soles of his dirty bare feet came at Eula May and Jeannie like two big toothless grins loosed from the face of the big leering century. Eula May and Jeannie flounced off in ruffled clouds of effrontery: Well, I never.
Father thundered into town on the Capitol 400, riding the smokestacks from Beaverville to Chicago. In the big city he became a man about town, rubbing padded shoulders with high rollers and big blowzy blondes. Oh, gangland!
In the one-room schoolhouse on the hill Younger Brother and I wrote in big looping letters across a green chalkboard, fifty times each: I will not ransack neighboring villages and make off with the spoils.


We traded in the coach-and-four for a souped-up jalopy loaded down with what we'd managed to save from the rains and strapped the beehives to the roof, and headed south along the Hall of Fame corridor. Younger Brother's pants legs, instead of growing longer, grew shorter. We roared through the shantytowns of the Great Plains inside a dust cocoon with Father's screaming head sticking out the top. We followed an army of bible salesmen at a safe distance through towns made entirely of churches. Churches made of dust, and alley glass, and pointing fingers. The locals held town council meetings during which it was unanimously decided to let the village idiots settle the score. Within the month Father's name was on the lips of every bounty hunter and lynch mob from Skedonk Junction to Hell, Michigan.


Big Ole walked the frozen river west along a path of whalebacks, said Father. He cracked the whalebacks open and dug out their blond bones. Snugging down into a blowhole with only a reindeer hide and a Bowie knife, Big Ole whittled the bones into a sixty-piece set of baroque-handled flatware complete with soup ladle, kugel server, four tiny fish forks and a cheese cleaver. He laid the whale meat out on his tongue to thaw. In the lumber camps of Quebec, a lumberjack whistled while honing his axe blade. The whistle froze solid and floated off into a starless sky.


We hitched a covered wagon to the back of the jalopy and hitched the jalopy to a low-hanging star. We looted our way through the Eisenhower administration, leaving behind us a black road that couldn't catch up, a curling ribbon of smoke. Our faces stared out at us from wanted posters, but we had long since traded those faces in for longer, leaner ones. Outside the township of Welcome we came to the place where the old wooden coasters went to die, their curved tracks undulating like the backs of sea serpents from a black sea of parking lots. We took off our hats and held them to our hearts. There was nowhere left to park.


Big Ole hibernated for a year and a day inside the whale's carcass. He dreamed the dead whale's dreams instead of his own. He slept right through the April thaw and the whale carcass floated downstream, disintegrating bit by bit until Big Ole found himself in a shallows floating on his back, looking with one eye straight up into the nostrils of a flaming blue ox.
By the time we arrived at the old trading post, carrying with us the rubble of a hundred villages, it was too late. The mighty fist of industry had come crashing down. The shantytowns lay on their backs, dead to the world. Washed in cool fluorescent luminance, a quincunx of shopping aisles splayed out from a central point an inch across, clad in fake terrazzo. We unfolded our maps. In the sporting goods department Older Brother felled a moose and painted himself with its purple blood. Come back to the five and dime, Davy Crockett! cried Younger Brother, but there was a half-price sale on camping equipment the next aisle over, and Younger Brother's cries vanished into the thronging hordes!
Older Brother said: Have you by any chance seen the Bronze Age? I'm sure I left it around here somewhere.

The Battle of Timber Town

The blue ox opened its mouth and yawned a mighty yawn, said Father, and the song of Timber Town leapt from its throat, surprising Big Ole with its plaintive mewl. But Big Ole had places to go, and people to see. He flicked the big ox in the center of its glowing eye and the creature shattered, instantly and irreversibly, into one million pieces of blue glass, save for its mighty head, which Big Ole instantly appropriated, using it to replace his own. You could never tell when having an ox head might come in handy.
The horizon swung loose on its hinges, the sky unraveled like an old sweater, the ground beneath him cleared its dusty throat and coughed up a forest of steel girders. A suspension bridge hiked up its skirts and headed for the hills. The Edmund Fitzgerald went belly-up. Out of the mists of Lake Superior emerged a thigh like a dawning calamity, a tattooed forearm like a white rampart. It was of course, said Father, none other than that doddering old relic Paul Bunyan, clad in a pilfered birthday suit as pink and shiny as the month of May. Big Ole could not help but feel in his guts a primordial hiccup, for Paul Bunyan's skin was as hard and marbled as a temple ruin. His shadow unfurled like a great length of low-pile wall-to-wall carpeting. Big Ole reached into the ghastly billow of his white beard, pulled out a fistful of gods and flung them to the four winds. A hail of frozen whistles hammered down from above.
The gods of the old country were no help at all. They scattered like dandruff. They scuttled off like a spillage and, lifting a corner of the great woodsman's shadow, hid quaking underneath. They had no love for this land with its flapjack towers and rivers of sweet sticky syrup.
Paul Bunyan and Big Ole stood facing each other across the proverbial great divide, Big Ole puffing like a locomotive through the nostrils of the ox head, Paul Bunyan wearing his nakedness like a shield. Big Ole, standing on a bridge of ice that spanned the Klondike and stretched back to the fjords of Norway. Paul Bunyan flanked by a chorus line of French Canadian lumberjacks, with a steam shovel bringing up the rear. Big Ole armed with four tiny fish forks and a cheese cleaver, Paul Bunyan with a mighty axe and a handful of Lincoln Logs.
In the surrounding burgs and backwaters, the citizenry crowded into Value Villages and waited with baited breath, for the sound of the starting bell.