Featured Poet: Katie Lehman Pierce

Images from County Galway, Ireland and Middlebury, Indiana

Garden Talk

In western Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, a Victorian walled garden stands on the grounds of Kylemore Abbey. The abbey, formerly known as Kylemore Castle, and its elaborate estate was built by a wealthy doctor in the 1860s. Since the 1920s, however, Kylemore has belonged to a community of Benedictine nuns. One particular nun and I worked within the mostly unkempt and hidden six-acre garden, tending to a small apple orchard and vegetable beds. The mystique of the garden and its history, including the Victorian women and gentlemen who had once traversed there, was riddled in the lavish undergrowth.

Sunlit, the vegetation lifts
after a rain that doused every leaf
low on its stem. Mist and tome, it is
another’s secret, an old solemnity
in which we walk. Our boots talk, taking
to the grassy squeak, the yellow wet. What

quickening speaks in such respite? The rain barrel
full, it seeps its orange-flaked ridge
over. But who owns it? Our eyes in a pale pleasure of lisp and gasp
are painless. The water pock, the pock-drip,
the upraised parsley beds that sift a soil specked with white—
All is quietly kept in our seeing.

Now the orchard’s in our keeping. And a trellis
above the garden gate hangs above all that is
growing, light and green. Your hands grasp
gray limbs, a slip of bark. It’s possible, maybe
You say you’re too old for this, climb
anyway, I stay behind—Squinting light, black lash

apples. What blossom
awoke, attentive, on a sudden leaf?
We think we hear ladies drinking their mid-morning tea.
You almost—The swishing of skirts, as they walk.
Hurry and hurry.
A branch brush, a hush, a balmy clutch—

What talk surmises them now? What heaven
gave in within the ten foot
drop? We step, cautious not
to disturb it—Plateaus of iron, rhododendron
silk and brick, berry thick, a prick of needle bush. Don’t go and
Why so soon? We’ve hardly met. Our

breath in the swallow of others’ loveliness is
unguarded, a joyous whimper in the trees.
We decipher this year’s crop is—Taste,
just as sweet—Idling in, a
plenitude, sworn by the oak, the grazing
of many, and us turning the latch lock out.

Poem for the Gardener

It was constance that brought him,
shovel in hand, thin grasp of wishbone
at his wrist. He unearthed the ground
at his sod-cusped feet and did not sing.

His boots were ripped at the top, black
rubber scraps where he had pulled them up
mornings in the dark, the kettle not yet
to a boil. The sweater he wore

was torn at mid-arm where it had caught
an oak branch—knitting loops and knots.
In the berry thickets looking for a bucket
he had left, his back would haul as with

a scythe, three miles from the sea. His speech
lurked quietly below his breath, brief spit
of under loam. His lips were water-thin
and did not move when he spoke.

Sly magician, out of his sleeve such vegetation
he awoke, turning up as with a tuning fork,
turnips and onions and spuds as he stood—
timbre and dance, on the hill slant.

Entering the Garden

Cotton bog in its surly wet
strips its stem, a slim hollow, a
sallow wood. From the roadside
the ripe pink fuchsia drips. Deora de

O God of tears. The rhododendrons
align in darted strands of color.
Green pine and flowerings,
the sunlit stint

of apple dew, a glowing caught
in the wiry cross of fence
and stone-post garden pass.
Terraces are seamed with brick,

weed and bush-stitch, a fortress
of topiaries—red currants, black
currants, and blackberries. Beyond
the garden wall the oak saplings

chasten in their branch leaf furthering.
A cloaked statue of Mary, antique and
chipping, overlooks, palms up, a
piling of potatoes in the garden shed.

When will I know the brief wine-sip
left on my tongue is communion
enough? Bud, bid, bit. But
there’s no time to be

straying. There’s hay down, cows
in need of milking. Trees
sprouting up in buildings
made of stone, ceilings gone—

The Fields

The hill is riveted by plod-slips where the sucklers
in their wild idle ambition tore down it at the sight
of an open gate, the stench of silage on the wind.

Now the wind is in, tearing the black sack tarp
that billows up, an immense whale-rip in its side, the
entire length of winter. Tires, deflated weight, are thrown

with a hoist on top. Rusted and rough, the old gate creaks,
as it ought, shut. The holly extends in back of it, bright
berries that gleam a solitary foliage, and what’s left

of November. The bull swings, a trod slowing in, in a cold
air off the coast, rounding near the back. Steam breathing
bequeaths the rite of winter, the rain shelled in ice, the

complete frost-insistence forward, sustained by hooves
that bounce thick to the barnyard down.

The Apple Cutting

Before they come to cut the orchard down,
we load box crates and buckets
with apples, as many as we can reach or
shake down. We start storing, after filling

the garden shed, the surplus in dirt-burrowed mounds.
How like a burial the orchard then is. Like bouquets,
we place dry grass on the apples' graves
and daily tend. At night, the badgers smell

a rotting pulp, leave half-eaten rinds, black spits
of seed on a dew-wet path. In the morning
we cover over, hear the branches' crooked
severing, the scream of the heightening saw, see

the carnage of leaves drying, a scattering
of securer bulbs, once unreachable,
underneath us now. We step
among the orchard ruins, gleaning what

we can from limbs that never looked so alive.
We mean to go back, to retrieve the ones
we have buried, unmarked in the garden grove.

January Calf

Brash iceberg, you were
calved too soon—
rippled skin, hide of sewn linen,
licked of vein-strokes,

a raw weep and blemish.
What packed hemisphere pushed
you out in this southern, sudden slip
of a rope and pulled me in

so tight? Pitched were pieces, pierces
like clamor and glass crashing. Clamped in
an ear-ache—I thought a nest of baby birds had fallen
from the barn eaves’ wooden claws.

January calf, size of an infant
human, I wrapped a vinyl
apron, soiled with teat dip and
cow dung, like a cloth diaper round your

rashing, gum-stuck body. The slight
weight across my shoulder plunged me
under the metal feed bunk rails, over
the leaning bale-tied gates, while you yelped, straining

for some other mother or
cover. A barn door, open harbor, gray and sliding,
banged wildly, wind-swept and rain a-muck. Inside the
heat lamps pulsated, scratchy bulbs, the milk pump

kicked and thumped, where I had laid you, seal-like
in one chaotic crib of straw. Cob-web lint
and spider stalk, you slept, died, wombless
the kittens all a-fluff on your back.

About the Author

Katie Lehman Pierce

Katie Lehman Pierce, of Bloomington, Indiana, graduated from Goshen College in 1995 with a B.A. in English, and from the University of Notre Dame in 1999 with an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry), studying under Sonia Gernes. In 1998 she won the American Academy of Poetry Prize at Notre Dame, and from 1999 to 2010 she was assistant editor at the University of Notre Dame Press. Her garden poems published here have their origin in 1995-96, when she worked with Benedictine nuns in the orchard and walled Victorian garden of Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. Her poems about cows reflect the years when she milked and cared for cows on a farm near Middlebury, Indiana, while attending Goshen College and the University of Notre Dame. Katie has had poems published inGreat River ReviewandGilChrist Letter.