The Sheep and the Lambs


Never have I seen so many:  hundreds of sheep and lambs, families gathered in clumps of two or three, hunched together on unfenced slopes rising over the North Atlantic, over the ruins of cramped cottages where other families lived on top of each other before the disaster.

Now a few fieldstone homes have been brought back to life. They house only one person at a time:
a painter here, a potter there. Scores of other cottages are still in ruin all along the miles up Bolus

The sheep and the lambs. The lambs and the sheep. With each sheep, either one or two lambs.
Sheep for the lambs, lambs for the sheep. Lambs in the sheep. But not now; in May they’re all out,
tripping over the hillsides. Sisters and brothers stumble into each other, knock heads.

Also the sheep are in the lambs. My mother now dead for three weeks shy of a year. I think of songs
she sang when we both were young:   mairzy doats and doezy doats and ….

She was sliding towards death while I was in Kerry, a runner rushing the plate. She’d watch the
World Series as she was ironing—the only time of year she ironed.


Southwest Ireland, gorgeous abattoir. Everywhere you see pelts—on seats of café chairs, on
cushions, sundry walls, always the little ones with farmers’ splashes of pastel dye washed off, the
wool a whitish cream or faintly yellow, oatmeal, or, rarer, chocolate-milk brown.

I don’t eat lamb. That’s me being precious: I eat cows, I eat pigs.

Precious lamb my mother must have called me as a little child: precious lamb I call my dog, an eighty-
pound lab.


A lamb for a sheep. A sheep for a lamb. A sheep in a lamb. Lost sheep.

I’ve never lost a mother before. Some people have to lose two mothers, three. It gives me
misgivings, this remembering. There was, sometimes, a wolf inside the sheep who was my mother.

Recalling pain. Recalling years of little power.

Exiting sun sears the waves.


The year my mother was dying I grew so thin I was almost happy. Almost, as in the way the lambs’
mouths look almost like they’re smiling. A misapprehension. A misapprehension of happiness.

My craving for leanness is of my mother’s making. One inheritance of many. Another is language.
Another is anger.

There’s a wolf inside the lamb who is the daughter.

In the story, Jacob covered his arms with lambskin to steal from his twin, Esau, their father’s
blessing–their inheritance. Esau was famished, a hard-working herdsman; Jacob a schemer, coached
by their mother. Who was coached by a god. The patriarch chose the deceiver.


We think of lambs as innocents. But so, equally, could we consider sheep. None of them have
vanity. None of them are cruel.

But lambs are so much lighter, easier to place on a fire.

Let me forget violence, not love, is the most vivid remembrance.

Let me forget violence, not love—the most vivid remembrance.


I felt a pulse of wavelets in my brain—a salt a buoyant sparkle pushing towards meaning —
an inevitable progression understood as natural understood as mystery understood as hunger
understood as natural understood as simple understood as pulsing beatitude or insight – a flowing –
a morphing towards – cycle of transforming – a current – this energetic liquid —

Kerry is everywhere in my grief. Ocean’s seething, its calm flowing. Salt and salt.

Keening can be silent, or can be faint wailing coming from an ocean away, oscillation like the sine
wave or track of a snake, ripple that’s one moment of the ocean’s selfhood.


Some breeds bred in Ireland: Texel, Jacob’s Coat and Suffolk, Mayo Blackface, Valais Blacknose, Scottish Blackfaced Mountain Sheep and Cheviot, Bluefaced Leicester, Belclare, Charollais, Rouge
de L’ Quest, Shropshire, Vendeen and Zwartble, Blue du Maine. Easy Care and Hampshire Down.

Sunlight shines pink through inner skin of the lambs’ ears; they shift to listen to my boots strike
gravel. In profile their heads long and wise like horses’. If they each had a horn they’d be unicorns
with muddy knees.

See the lean dark legs of sheep under lumbering bodies. Around their necks and thick all down their
backs, Elizabethan ruffs. Accordions of wool, expanding when they jump. They stare, they stare.
Sheep ration–Super Thrive–is what they eat, and grass, above the active, dazzling sea. They drink
Atlantic with their eyes.


It’s been nearly a year.

In ruined walls of cottages the lambs and sheep, each sheep with one or two lambs, grazing or
huddled side by side with their legs tucked under, invisible. Behind them, below them at the rocks
Atlantic sings or crashes.

When she died my mother talked to me of traveling. Said she was on the ship but almost home.



Kathleen Winter

—3rd Place, 2020 Palette Poetry Prize—

“Throughout the extended references to sheep and lambs, place fills in with emotion, and what begins as a pastoral, in lines that stretch across the page like the Irish landscape, transforms into a complex meditation on loss.” — Guest Judge Forrest Gander
Kathleen Winter is author of Transformer (2020), judge’s selection for The Word Works Hilary Tham Collection; I will not kick my friends (2018), winner of the Elixir Poetry Prize; and Nostalgia for the Criminal Past, winner of the Antivenom Poetry Prize. Her awards include the Poetry Society of America The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award and the Ralph Johnston Fellowship at University of Texas's Dobie Paisano Ranch. Her poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Republic, The New Statesman, Five Points, Giant Sequins, Southword (Ireland), Agni, Massachusetts Review, New Ohio Review and Copper Nickel. She was granted fellowships by Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Dora Maar House, James Merrill House, Cill Rialaig, and Vermont Studio Center. She teaches creative writing at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College in northern California.