Four poems by Orchid Tierney • Empty Mirror

by the river / credit: deby the river / credit: de

From blue doors

The epistolemology of the field

History refuses a settlement. The field is a category for knowledge. A cow is a period and more likely syntaxis. Cover of grass is blue, occasionally yellow. If red, not danger, but a moment of difference. The cattle are blue, occasionally yellow. If red, not danger, but a moment of kindness. Kin, they find themselves. Maybe love too. This field is a category for knowledge, but it is not always beguiling.

Blue smells here. Sky smells too. Hay sounds. Fence smells. Birds birding. Dandelions walking. Daisies lowing. Grass walking. Beetle still, except for growing. Moth immotile except for dying. A moss is a cow mossing. Patties in stupor until free to travel. So much depends on that red wheelbarrow. A fly unflying. Grass wheat unfleshed. The field is a medium, a telephone, a computer, a letter to another mother. The dog that chases the cows is sentimental. That breaks the text. This dog is now still. Not.

The fence transforms the waste land into field. Useful, that field is a field of battle and pastureland, a square on a chess board, the surface of a shield. This field is also action and the environment of the poem. That field is: disciplinary. An open country. This field is unencumbered by marsh, mountain, hill, forest. This field is arable. Useful. That field is useless. That field is time. This field is Duncan’s. That field is.

houses laughter

Many energies shape the field. A metaphor is a militant action. A syntax demands the order of parts. A cow is a part and also a whole. A cow is an army. But this cow is meat. But that cow is meat. And this cow is meat. But that cow is meat. This cow is dairy. Then meat. That cow is literal.

Today the bleeding trees are pungent with air. They hunger for rumour and blue tears. In the fields, the spongey ground is wanting authority. But here, by the houses, the chattel. They withhold without hesitation. You do not live within these walls, the houses say. You live for moments and movements, or hours or errors. The sky disputes these facts but not others. Today the earth offers great cry, but little wool.

This house is a house that is temporarily lived in. This is an object shaped with feeling. That house is description of fuss. A slanting laughter. Vocabulary is for birds, not cows.

Entangled with the house is a coral that promotes soft motions of dust. A slight of laughter like. The coral that leads is a coral that hides a fantasy of these blue doors. Behind those blue doors is heaven.

cow poetics

Does it matter, says Limpet. Can they talk? Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz once described an encounter with a German chien who could speak thirty mots, including thé, caffé, chocolat, and assemblée. Mr Leibniz has seen it and heard it. It was an astonishing thing to see. To see this German chien could articulate so elegantly French loan words as if the body of a dog is a machine for mongrel translations.

Pig the Carnivore claimed that they too had heard cattle speak French. Excusez-moi, mon cherie, a chattel once mooed, s’il vous plait me passez-moi de l’eau. Pig can’t speak French but he can speak in homophones and replied so diplomatically to the capital: accuse me, man? Cherry silly ewe plaint-me pass-me, I low.

But how did the cow respond? asked Limpet, disbelieving Pig’s claims. Pig shrugged philosophically. The capital had buried themself in the corner of the truck before breaking violently loose from its confines when Pig stunned it with a prod. Not to worry. The capital hadn’t gone far. Pig electrocuted it several more times on the hard road until its warm brains slurped its beautiful soft ears. A monstrous loving. Kind nausea is radical poetry.

Limpet nodded. For they had seen it and heard it too.

the barnacle tide of Steller’s sea cows

Sea: possibly cognate with gisig (Old High German), suggesting ponds, suggesting marshes, and sigan, suggesting to sink, suggesting to flow down, suggesting Hurricane Dorian sea-swept three sea cows into the sea-water. Sea cows did not sea-sink, were sea-framing and sea-loving, were sea-gentle. They understood their sea-bodies in relation to sea-salt and seawater. Became sea-marsh. Sea-shouldering, their taut sea-tails were sea-svelte. Sea-ensuing sea-shot with sea-brown and sea-white, their coarse sea-smiling sea-hides were sea-fed. Sea-lulled sea-bodies floated upon the sea-thick sea-air of the sea-hurricane. They were sea-light in the sea-swift seawater, were sea-artists, sea-kind sea-buds, unlike sea-corpses and sea-horses for they were sea-filled with sea-filth of sea-distemper, shared sea-fever with the sea-mad seagulls. Sea-soft sea-eyes sea-encrusted with sea-dregs and sea-dust. Sea-dirt sea-hardened in the sea-skins of sea-mouths. They sailed under sea-fire. Sailed like velella, sea-rode the sea-mountains, their sea-legs named the sea-that-fold with sea-cold sea-feces. They sea-sensed themselves sea-rosy like seasoned sea-shrubs and sea-urchins. Sea-licked the sea-surface with their sea-tongues until they beached upon Cedar Island like sea-shillings, overwhelmed with sea-awe of sea-land. They relearned the memory of motion.

The sea-sweet sea-cows were sea-slick with sea-sleeves and sea-snapples. Once, a sea-strawberry, sea-sparrow and sea-sucker, only the slat of land swotted the sea-cows with sea-sickness. The seaboard un-sea-ed the sea-cows on sandy landcape. Dripping with sea-lentils on their land-hinds, the land-cows land-grazed over land-waves like land-beetles and land-bugs. Land-boarded by land-dunes, they were land-born. Land-cast by the land’s sun salt. Land-cows land-made land-claims to the land-club of other land-dwellers and land-tussock, but the sea-memory hollowed out land-fever. The land-wash land-lapped over their land-water land-hooves. These land-cows were landfyrd, without land-hunger even as they educed their tender land-legs. On the small land-mead, they land-lacked land-sickness and land-speech. Sealess with sea-speech. They savoured their new species.


Robert Duncan, Ground Work: Before the War in the Dark. NY: New Directions, 1984. 27.
“field, n.1.” OED Online. September 2019. Oxford University Press.

Ludovic Dutens, ed. “Account of a letter from Mr. Leibniz to the Abbé de St. Pierre, on a talking dog.” In Opera Omnia volume II. 1706.

About Orchid Tierney

Orchid Tierney is an Aotearoa-New Zealand writer, former Philly-an, currently living in Gambier, Ohio where she teaches at Kenyon College. She is the author of a year of misreading the wildcats (Operating System, 2019) and Earsay (TrollThread, 2016), and chapbooks ocean plastic (BlazeVOX 2019), blue doors (Belladonna* Press), Gallipoli Diaries (GaussPDF 2017), the world in small parts (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), and Brachiaction (Gumtree, 2012). Other poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Jacket2, Journal of Modern Literature, and Western Humanities Review, among others.

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