Day 22 of 365 – Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Day 5

Mother, Ireland

Even then you could not see how
to keep bees in the beehive hut

they’ll fly out through the top
you said to strangers in Kerry,

and they turned away, you aware
enough then to feel ashamed.

Your first and last trip to Ireland,
mother of mine, and how you stung

me at every turn, as if only the welt
of my own spurning back

could bind us. I felt harried
by all your talk, aphasia already lapping

your brain’s burren, you naming
and naming, saying and saying,

to keep the world with you,
the names for the world.

It was a summer of nesting, nestled
stones. Gallarus Oratory with its water-tight

centuries. And you did not say
a stone boat will not float

but I am saying it now. Overturned
in the church of foreignness,

how do we tend to the dying?
The bees gone and going.

Later I left you for Skellig Michael
and the green martyrdom, stepped into

an unsteady boat without life vests,
not knowing if the cabled bodies

of the fishermen sank in the sea.
The sky was as fierce as the water.

Somehow the horizon held me when others
were not held. They lurched and retched,

too ill to stand, until we docked
at Blind Man’s Cove and were

hoisted, dragged, and heaped to shore
below the swollen cliffs. Six hundred steps

ahead like penance. Long to walk, so many
years in the making, a labor toward what

cannot be known until known, stone upon
corbelled stone. It was before we had words

for climate change. It was before we had
do not resuscitate. Now the gales lash

every monk-laid step. Waves are higher.
I am bedraggled and shorn of my ease.

I am wind-lashed and mortal. Denial.
They say we are in it.

I climbed the grey rivulets of the monk’s
stair through sea campion and thrift. Puffins,

in from their wintered Atlantic to nest,
stood white breasted and galoshed,

a bemused retinue, rectangular eyed
and welcome, a waver in the earnest

pilgrimage. I marveled at their nearness.
They must have given the monks heart.

With their rainbow beaks, they stood
by as if they expected us, as if they knew

us in our stumbling way. How solitary were
the monks in their company? How martyred

in the green? And yet the same thirst that made
that terrible task of steps and huts and chapel

built on jutting stone in rough water
hundreds of years ago, now makes

an ocean beyond sandeels, beyond puffins,
beyond food. How shall I write

redemption as the weather shifts? One summer
the puffin chicks starved in their burrows

and could not reach the sea. This is not only
my story. Step by slow step, mother, you are

leaving your body. Perhaps there is no ascent
and no descending but rather a flying out

into the ocean and air as the chicks did
the next summer, fed on the garfish

their parents flew to find. Which are
the necessary journeys? Which the

necessary deaths? I might write that I left
the island in something like joy, the boat back

less full of peril, the sea befriended,
the stark rock of martyrdom left behind.

Instead I say, I came back like the monks
to the afternoon and took up my daughter’s life.


From The Fisher Queen: New & Selected Poems by Kathryn Kirkpatrick (2019). Copyright © Kathryn Kirkpatrick


KATHRYN KIRKPATRICK was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and grew up in the Philippines, Germany, Texas and the Carolinas. Educated at Winthrop University and UNC-Chapel Hill, she holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Emory University, where she received an Academy of American Poets poetry prize. Today she lives with her husband, Joseph Conrad scholar William Atkinson, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where she teaches environmental literature, animal studies, and Irish studies as Professor of English at Appalachian State University. Three of her collections of poetry have won the N.C. Poetry Society’s Brockman-Campbell award, one received the Roanoke-Chowan Poetry Prize from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association, and another was a finalist for the Southern Independent Booksellers Association poetry award.

Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s poetry has been included in anthologies and readers, including Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming; Animal Companions, Animal Doctors, Animal People; Don’t Leave Hungry: Fifty Years of Southern Poetry Review; Cadence of Hooves: A Celebration of Horses; Poetry from Sojourner: A Feminist Anthology; and The Carol Adams Reader.

As a literary scholar in Irish studies and the environmental humanities, Kirkpatrick has published essays on class trauma, ecofeminist poetics, and animal studies in New Hibernia Review, Eire-Ireland, Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, An Sionnach, Irish University Review and other journals. Her reviews of the work of other writers have appeared in Irish Literary Supplement, Shenandoah, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, and South Carolina Review.

Kathryn Kirkpatrick’s website is

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