And four more new poems.
By KATIE LEHMAN.
Cyclical and sparse, her eyelid-thin wings approach
and disapproach among the grasses. Unassuming,
she only covets what she knows: a single worn reed
of herself, dark covert, uncoaxable as the worm
she once was. Before the white-spotted wings,
before the stained-glass veins. Idling brown earth
at close measure. Closer at length, but she knows
closeness is not her answer. If it is a loveliness
she feels or a kind of loneliness, only the husbandry
of tears will make her radiance known. How her
cautious love perplexes the moth who darts
unblinkingly into the porch light. Filamental,
she is compatible to late dusk or perceivable grief.
Admonish, and she’s gone—yet I conspire she longs
for earth’s untiring clasp, longs even, all preconceptions
removed—to lay her orange and black chivalry down.
Kylemore Abbey, Ireland
When the white tour bus with square black windows
stops along the one-lane road, we are far beyond the
coiffed hedges, hidden in the brambles, our backs
bent over thick blackberries. “They like to see a nun
and a young girl in red overalls,” she says. If someone
approaches, she’ll pretend she doesn’t hear, let me
talk, I the quieter one of the two. What does it mean—
now that she is gone, and the fields have carried on.
Now horses graze where she had kept her Charolais.
The earth hoof-tilled in the muddy months by four-
legged beasts, through each thaw and each freeze.
She must be in the farm kitchen, near the table,
near the worn-down chair, or in the gray dappled
coats of the Connemara ponies, muscles twitching
as if touched by a hand that is not there—
an architectured but pliant anatomy they inhabit,
forelocks brushed aside in the Atlantic air. There
she would be and not down the lane in the cemetery
under a cross placed in sparkling rocks. Not at
the far static end of the skyward-pointing gables
of the Gothic chapel but in the mottled light of its
windowed tracery, adrift in the angled corners cobbed
with dust, along the path of its flying buttresses to
where I think of her standing beside me under a
tree’s wide canopy, sheltering us from an October
downpour one leaf-born afternoon. But as soon
as it begins it will stop, and we’ll emerge from wet
hedgerows heavy with light. “Now then,” she’ll
say, and we’ll move on to the next thing. For a time,
we’ll forget life’s brevity, the narrow streams that
ran down our oversized raincoats while side by
side in stillness we watched, wellingtons lined up,
two figures like horses waiting out the rain.
Sleepy Tom, a pacer who set a world’s record of
2:12 ¼ at Chicago, July 25, 1879, was foaled in the
schoolhouse yard on North Main Street in Bellbrook.
—Sugarcreek Township, Ohio
What was it about Sleepy Tom, lathered
in froth, his flank chalk-lined with sweat.
He was driven into the Little Miami River,
as the village lore goes, hot off the bottom
track after a nag race. Sold—bought for $7.50
and a jug of whiskey. He soon went blind
from heat stroke and the sudden change
in temperature but ran the Grand Circuit—
Louisville, Columbus, Cincinnati—
pulling a high-wheeled sulky behind. And in
Chicago he’d set the world record, come to
be known—a hundred years later—to the town
historian, and to us schoolchildren. Ghost horse
at the schoolyard’s edge at the edge of town.
The headless horseman’s lost horse. The horse
outside the classroom window. Grazing
through first grade, second grade. In third
grade his lithe contour accompanied
a lone oak, shadowed dyad in silhouette
visible from a school bus pane. Was it that
he ran, his élan vital propelling us both
toward some future form, that made me
pay attention? Made me look for him in
every unplowed field, on each slick-paged
textbook, at the perimeter of every day? I took
comfort that he’d recognize the flat leather
straps, dull clips of sand against steel toes,
sulky spokes whisking alongside fetlocks,
brisk air rounding his pink-flared nostril
above his warm muzzle, metal bit on tongue—
On the same stretch of track, now road,
along a curve in the same river, I’d ride
another horse through bent trees and
bank rock, incognizant and blind at fourteen
to depthless rapids or the bottomless run. Barrel
deep, she’d plunge, her thick neck rising up
and down, evenly, like a musical measure.
Her forelegs seesawed in a high march, as if
buoyed on a carousel at a county fair.
She’d know what to do—did not spook,
without the surety of earth staying her
loosened hooves. She’d carry me, like
my first horse, through currents and cold
undercurrents, then hoist us both onto the bank,
shaking the water off her unquestioning back.
PICTURE IN A PANDEMIC
for Matt Metzler, and for Finn
Still young enough to hold my hand,
it might be the last year his supple-
boned body, tepid fledgling, buries
behind my leg like a wren’s barred wing.
Its primary import has always been shield.
He wears a cotton ear-strap mask, navy
shorts; on his shirt, T-Rex this year—
We maneuver past the elder class
having a socially distanced snack. From
his eye I see a riveted tree trunk, stout,
sanguine, tower from its hem of play-
worn dirt, turret or spire or minaret—
Above the folded grass, his shoes,
lithe, jet-black. His hair is half-cut—
I cut his ear—narrowest blade edge
biding there. He shifts his legs forward,
a British Grenadier, to the photographer’s
prompts and cues. Against the oak,
with verdant pose and without guise,
he looks past both lens and scope—
only then can consciousness
take its brief transit across the late
morning light. Last winter when
he bolstered his staunch reproach, hid
under a desk, his teacher did not force
with speech but knew silence to be
language enough to stay fear’s foothold
in a usurped land. Silence gives space,
protection. Though we know it goes
both ways. Here, a sturdy bulwark—
his teacher a stalwart. They stand
at the helm, loud as the most
raucous fight, or birds taking flight.
She covets hens like couture shoes. They step
around her King Louis heels and into her house.
She tells me their lineage: Rhode Island Red,
ISA Brown; their sorrel feathers, leather
comb, and wattle. She drinks coffee with cream
before the light of morning. Daft, the chickens
are, and operose, their oil-preened feathers,
auburn hackles, and trifold feet. One pecks
and shifts her mechanical head in abrupt,
unceremonious angles. Among the flora,
a cloak—bought in a Lake Michigan tourist
town, and shared between—the shade of
the ISA Brown, botah on bodice and sleeves.
Coral thread, copper stitch, and mahogany
swatch. Vintage, Victorian; a Persian tapestry
with faux fur cuffs. The hens are only remotely
aware, or temporarily so, of a similar-hued fox,
a trotting memory, far-off, head down, its white
tussock tail skirting a timber-trussed coop and
straw-bed clutch. Over decades, we held readings
in attics. Bulbs then herbs planted in backyard
gardens; sat on light pink velvet chairs, wore
a black-and-white checkered coat, fought for
in consignment shops. Collected Letters, of whom?
purchased at a musty antique store, among
familial yet unaffiliated heirlooms, handiwork
brought from the dead. A wrought iron
chandelier, we painted white for Dickinson’s
168th birthday, wax-drip candles, pastel
confetti—paper ash on a hardwood floor.
Years, mere carriers, fleets or flocks, and
round like clocks, trunk rings, figs we tasted
one summer evening from a neighbor’s tree.
KATIE LEHMAN received an MFA in Creative Writing (poetry) from the University of Notre Dame in 1999, studying under John Matthias and Sonia Gernes. While at Notre Dame, she was the recipient of the 1998 Billy Maich Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the editor of Regrounding a Pilgrimage by John Matthias and John Peck (Dos Madres Press, 2018), and her poems have appeared in Great River Review, Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing, and Notre Dame Review.