October 28, 2004

Twentieth century hay poets born before 1940.

Patrick Kavanagh.Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967).

Kenneth Rexroth.Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982).
“Sottoportico San Zaccaria”

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982).
“Rogation Days”

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982).

William Stafford.Edith Joy Scovell (1907-1999).
“The Half-Mown Meadow”

William Stafford (1914-1937).

William Stafford (1914-1937).
“American Gothic”

William Stafford (1914-1937).
“An Argument Against The Empirical Method”

Louis MacNeice.Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).
"Eclogue by a Five-barred Gate"

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).
William Everson."Last before America"

William Everson (1912-1994).
"And Do the Indulgent Lovers"

Jean Garrigue.Jean Garrigue (1912-1972).
"This Swallow's Empire"

Jean Garrigue (1912-1972).
“Invitation to a Hay”

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-).
Muriel Rukeyser.“Haying Before Storm”

Maxine Kumin.Maxine Kumin (1925-).
Hayden Carruth.“Hay”

Hayden Carruth (1926-).
“The Baler”

Hayden Carruth (1926-).
“Emergency Haying”

James A Wright.James Arlington Wright (1927-1980).
“Lament for my Brother on a Hayrake”

Galway Kinnell.<Galway Kinnell (1927-).
“Farm Picture”

Thom Gunn.Thom Gunn (1929-2004).
“At the Back of the North Wind”

Gary Snyder.Gary Snyder (1930-).
“Hay for the Horses”

Nash. Equivalents for the megaliths. 1934.This motley crew of twentieth century poets begins with Patrick Kavanagh whose “Shancoduff,” freshly observed but wintry in its mood, treats hay in passing, a relief package for cold calves. Like his countryman, Seamus Heaney, who, with Ted Hughes, deserves their own separate section, Kavanagh records moments of transient hope in an impoverished landscape. Elsewhere, in “The Great Hunger,” he wrote of “time stretched for the mowing of the hay”(Complete Poems, (1987), p. 87), and other “hay that had wings-/ the February fodder that hung itself on the black branches/ of the hill-top hedge.” (p. 98). In the heat of Rexroth’s Veneto, hay has the smell of sensuality, but the third of his poems here is austere and damp enough to merit a Connemaran illustration. Scovell’s half-cut meadow is made vivid by an extended marine metaphor, windrows seen as waves. Next to it, I put a nineteenth century William Turner watercolor, for its sea-like horizontality, but, for more dynamic hay-as-curling-surf, I also recommend Benton’s Wyoming Hay or Hind’s Harvesting Hay , used to illustrate a Robert Francis poem in another section. Since William Stafford’s second poem explicitly points to Grant Wood’s American Gothic couple, I used another Wood painting to accompany his “Hay-Cutters,” justified by the line “leaving the land its long windrows.” The two MacNeice selections have little in common but their hay references. The first, describing a dream similar to Graves’ in an earlier war, is both surreal and sensual; the Terzic painting echoes the former quality more than the latter. The second is the first verse of a longer poem, lyrically describing a traditional haymaking scene; for its companion I selected a photograph of hay-field, densely populated by men and women and children, from the year before MacNeice’s birth. Everson’s timeless “indulgent lovers” are set next to Altdorfer’s equally indulgent couple from four-and-a-half centuries earlier. The first of two poems by Jean Garrigue evoking an old barn and the hay that fills it has as its partner a classically austere photograph by Charles Sheeler, the “barn’s boards” rhythms echoing the meter of the verse and the “striped rows” of the source hayfield. The other Garrigue work is an urgent lyric, inviting a lover, not to work in the hay, but to share a “shaggy house” with “butter-yellow walls.” If the quiet courtship depicted in the recent painting by the Russian artist Svechnikov lacks Garrigue’s urgency, its central golden stack, directly behind the lovers, is equally romantic in the evening light. Muriel Rukeyser’s painterly “Haying Before Storm” is well illustrated by Kathleen McLaughlin’s magnificent photograph of a Romanian youth, heroically forking hay from cock to wagon, against a sky that feels “bruise-color” even in black and white. The air-born hay’s a blur, bridging the texture of the still rick and the stormy sky. Maxine Kumin has a pair of poems, one a long descriptive reminiscence, the other sharply elegiac. The precise observation of the first is as tough as the life it captures, notably in the Day three consonant-spitting description of the “old baler old baler cobbled from/ other parts, repaired last winter,/ cussed at in the shed in finger-/ splitting cold when rusted bolts/ resisted naval jelly, Coca-Cola, and/ had to be drilled out in gritty bits…” But the image I put to it pairs with the gentle interlude that follows, a memory of companionable cows and dogs, that mitigate the hardships of the Vermont dairy farm. “February is an elegy to the poet’s mother, solemn lines paired with the bale monument constructed in an Oakland gallery to commemorate those who died before their time. Hayden Carruth’s two hay poems mirror but reverse the shape of Kumin’s. The first is a short sneer at tourists like me who look over the fence at hayfields. So next to it is one of my shadowy self-portraits outlined next to a fine fresh bale. The other longer piece, contrasting the satisfying struggle of the “desk-worker” loading bales with the brutal sacrifice of harvesters in other cultures, is illustrated by a group of heroic Hutterites by Laura Wilson. The melancholy “Lament” by James Arlington Wright seems at first read to record a literal death. Repeated readings confirm the ancient equivalence of hay and death, but suggest that the lost brother may simply be a man “broken” by the hard labor of the farm. Kinnell’s “Farm Picture” is an equally bleak vignette, hay and farmer spoiled by the rigors of time. Menihan’s depression era painting “Barns” is equally unsentimental in its decay. The last two poems in this section by Gunn and Snyder juxtapose the dank bitterness of an English winter with the dusty heat of a California ranch. The contrast in climates is reflected in the Thomas photograph of the old barn in the rain and the bright Phil Paradise painting of a San Luis Obispo haying scene, but both poems are as pessimistic in mood as most the works that precede them in this section.

Ritch. Haystacks and Croft, County Galway. 1987.Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967).

My black hills have never seen the sun rising,
Eternally they look north towards Armagh.
Lot's wife would not be salt if she had been
Incurious as my black hills that are happy
When dawn whitens Glassdrummond chapel.

My hills hoard the bright shillings of March
While the sun searches in every pocket.
They are my Alps and I have climbed the Matterhorn
With a sheaf of hay for three perishing calves
In the field under the Big Forth of Rocksavage.

The sleety winds fondle the rushy beards of Shancoduff
While the cattle-drovers sheltering in the Featherna Bush
Look up and say: ‘Who owns them hungry hills
That the water-hen and snipe must have forsaken?
A poet? Then by heavens he must be poor.'
I hear and is my heart not badly shaken?

Dawson. Venetian Hay Boat. 1914.Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982).
“Sottoportico San Zaccaria”
from The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth (1966).

It rains on the roofs
As it rains in my poems
Under the thunder
We fit together like parts
Of a magic puzzle
Twelve winds beat the gulls from the sky
And tear the curtains
And lightning glisters
On your sweating breasts
Your face topples into dark
And the wind sounds like an army
Breaking through dry reeds
We spread our aching bodies in the window
And I can smell the odor of hay
In the female smell of Venice

Spiegel. Harvesters Cutting Hay, Dolomites. 1969.Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982).
“Rogation Days”
from The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth (1966).

Under the orchards, under
The tree strung vines, little blue
Figures are making hay, high
On the steep hillsides above
Palladio's drowsy villas
And Tiepolo's swirling walls.
On the highest field they are
Still cutting with swinging scythes;
Down below they are tossing
The long swathes of hay to cure
In the sun; further down they
Are cocking it, or carrying
[Page 329 ]
It off in two-wheeled donkey carts.
The Venetian plain vanishes
In haze. The nearby Alps are
Indefinite blue smudges,
Capped with faint streaks of orange
Snow. Clouds of perfume roll up
The hillside in waves. All the birds
Sing. All the flowers bloom. Here
At a stone table like this,
On a little hill like this,
In a circle of cypress
And olive like this, the infinite
Visited Leopardi,
And ravished him and carried
Him off in the deep summer.
It would carry me off, too,
If I knew where I wanted
To go, or if I just wanted
To go nowhere at all.

Alexander. Sunset Sky, Bogland, Connemara.Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982).
“Hojoki” [lines 42-53: “Summer”]
from The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth (1966).

A thing unknown for years,
Rain falls heavily in June,
On the ripe cherries, and on
The half cut hay.
Above the glittering
Grey water of the inlet,
In the driving, light filled mist,
A blue heron
Catches mice in the green
And copper and citron swathes.
I walk on the rainy hills.
It is enough.

William Turner. Haymaking, near Oxford. c 1853.Edith Joy Scovell (1907-1999).
“The Half-Mown Meadow”
from Collected Poems (1988).

I walked in a half-mown flowering meadow by the sea's-
Edge of the grass, where yesterday the mower went.
Bloomy and purple as clover were the fog-grass and bent;
The field so wide, it broke on misty boundaries.

The stubble and mown hay were fresh like tidal sand
When at low tide I walked by that standing lake-waved sea;
The surface of the grass wore such fluidity,
Melting of plane in plane, as seemed unknown on land.

Our eyes rest on the sea like gulls and find a home
In that infinity. My eyes would not be called
By the small flags of ash-trees in the hedge, or belled
Flocking of children, from the sea where they had come,

Whose sky-reflecting waves, mantled with darkness under,
In waves' compulsive ways bred form on form of light;
Whose currents far from land carried fordone my sight;
All colour at the full as in a time of thunder.

Wood. Haying. 1939.William Stafford (1914-1937).
from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems (1998).

Time tells them. They go along touching
the grass, the feathery ends. When it feels
just so, they start the mowing machine,
leaving the land its long windrows,
and air strokes the leaves dry.

Sometimes you begin to push; you want to
hurry the sun, have the hours expand, because
clouds come. Lightning looks out from their hearts.
You try to hope the clouds away.
"Some year we'll have perfect hay."

Wood. American Gothic. 1930.William Stafford (1914-1937).
“American Gothic”
from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems (1998).

If we see better through tiny,
grim glasses, we like to wear
tiny, grim glasses.
Our parents willed us this
view. It's tundra? We love it.

We travel our kind of
Renaissance: barnfuls of hay,
whole voyages of corn, and
a book that flickers its
halo in the parlor.

Poverty plus confidence equals
pioneers. We never doubted.

Levinson. Needle in a haystack.William Stafford (1914-1937).
“An Argument Against The Empirical Method”
from Some haystacks don't even have any needle and other complete modern poems. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1969.

Some haystacks don't even have any needle.

Terzic. Villa Arkadien. 1980.Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).
"Eclogue by a Five-barred Gate" [lines 114-126]
from Collected Poems (1979).

Well, I dreamt it was a hot day, the territorials
Were out on melting asphalt under the howitzers,
The brass music bounced on the houses. Come
I heard cry as it were a water-nymph, come and fulfil me
And I sped floating, my feet plashing in the tops of the wheat
But my eyes were blind,
I found her with my hands lying on the drying hay,
Wet heat in the deeps of the hay, as my hand delved,
And I possessed her, gross and good like the hay,
And she went and my eyes regained sight and the sky was full of ladders
Angels ascending and descending with a shine like mackerel---
Now I come to tell it it sounds nonsense.

Haymaking, Wantage. 1906.Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).
"Last before America" [lines 1-5]
from Collected Poems (1979).

A spiral of green hay on the end of a rake:
The moment is sweat and sun-prick---children and old women
Big in a tiny field, midgets against the mountain,
So toy-like yet so purposed you could take
This for the Middle Ages.

Altdorfer. Lovers in a Hayfield. 1508.William Everson (1912-1994).
"And Do the Indulgent Lovers"
from The Residual Years: Poems 1934-1948: Volume I Of The Collected Poems(1997).

And do the indulgent lovers
Weave their arms in the April twilights,
Home from the river-runs,
From the straw beds in the hay heaps,
Broken of grass,
And marked maybe with the small sign
A woman leaves when her drouth has been broken?

Ask no man here.
The country girls may laugh in the leaves,
On the straw beds,
In the hay heaps,
But none here know it.

Ask no man here,
For he cannot tell,
But will speak instead of a dream,
Some snatch of his thoughts,
Sharpened to shape in his sleeping sight
And not anything more,
Being beyond that time,
And quite unable to say.
[August 15, 1943]

Sheeler. Side of a White Barn. 1917.Jean Garrigue (1912-1972).
"This Swallow's Empire"
from Selected Poems (1992).

Wrought by the odd desire for permanence
I'd hammer down that barn's boards one by one
The ivy's nudged apart and winds have sprung
And icy blows and summer's pounding suns.
Those gaping windows, too, and half-cracked panes,
The door that broke from its hinges leans against
The blackened exit mouth, and all such things
As let the rude rot in and thieving rain
I'd be so prompt to take defense against
And fortify and make so sound
You'd think it'd haunt me on some howling night
When all seems waste unless I could
To all that trouble say: this much will stand,
This swallows' empire for a little while
And bolts of hay in their warm cave
And drifts of straw upon the broad-beamed floor.
Though time must turn all waters for its mill
And nothing is but grist as we well know
What has withstood two hundred years
That rich resistance will do so
If obdurate work allows, for fifty more
For fifty more to house the hay
They cut and piled in stripèd rows
And will carry in before the sun's flower goes.

As if within this shelter here
For what the toppling wagons bring
From ricks in fields to fill the loft
With rustling fragrance and with warmth
There might be some more delicate thing
Dozing as in some attic in some spring
That shafts in through the windows in a dream
Of meadows in their prime unreaped, uncut,
Unreaped, uncut, and running with the wind---
The golden burn, the darksome gold or green.
[Page 63 ]
Pressed to the rafters all that airy weight
And caught within, now looking out,
Past time's compulsions in the massy dark,
Their golden heads and stalks of light.
I mean those summers of the foursquare fields
That memory by its strange persuasion yields,
And blazoning, from dim abandonment.

Svechnikov.  In the Neighborhood. 2003.Jean Garrigue (1912-1972).
“Invitation to a Hay”
from Selected Poems (1992).

A settlement of love
Is what I'd risk if you would.
A central fountain and a horse,
A little native elegance,
Some green-shuttered saffron buildings
And avenues of leaning trees
And an orchard close by
Divided from a field of hay
By a mouldering old wall
Snaking up a hill.
I'd have a garden primed
With beanflowers and chick peas
And in tubs lemon trees
Not to forget the marveled orange---
Where is a fruit so bright
And a stem so delicate?---
And days of blue air
That crowd the dark boughs of a grove
And other days as pale
As light in a birch grove---
Oh birch my very white
And original delight!
And back of us and all around
For the castle-haunting rooks
To fly to and fro from
The many-sided, dark-blue faced
Mountains, wrinkled, ravined, cleft
When they are not cast upon
By those pallors that beyond
Tell of a snowlight's origin.
And in this civil order
Ringed round by a wilderness
I'd have some very conical
And shaggy house of hay
To invite you in to stay
[Page 81 ]
As long as butter-yellow walls pleased you
And there you'd be with me
We'd live in a monument of hay
Mad as those who know
In love is all fantasy.
Your breast would be of burning gold
And its delicious heat
Would warm me day and night
While creatures of the wood
Might envy, if they could,
Our joy just as fine
As the improvising clouds
That as you look at them are gone
Or volatile as leaves in wind.
We'd go bird-nesting in clouds
And hunting down the meadow grass
For flowers or the smallest haunts
Of the young field mice.
And in this ancient landscape
Preponderant with moss,
Rambling walls and pinewoods
Of narrow alleys at the end of which
Daylight stares starkly through,
Our love alone would be new
Despite its ancient properties.
Aërial would we be
With love's finest courtesies,
By all that shapes of earth and air
Can subtilize the senses with
Until they have grown rapt
On emanations of a light
When fold on fold goes into
Five fathoms of a blue.
Our love would be endowed
By mountain and by cloud
[Page 82 ]
So long as we would stay
Alongside such ravines
And such slopes of terraced vines
Broken towers and bells
In a shaggy house of hay.
My dear, and will you be
Content to dwell with me
Eating of illusion
Daily and nightly?

McLaughlin. Petru and the Claie. 2000.Muriel Rukeyser (1913-).
“Haying Before Storm”
from The Collected Poems (1978).

This sky is unmistakable. Not lurid, not low, not black.
Illuminated and bruise-color, limitless, to the noon
Full of its floods to come. Under it, field, wheels, and mountain,
The valley scattered with friends, gathering in
Live-colored harvest, filling their arms; not seeming to hope
Not seeming to dread, doing.
I stand where I can see
Holding a small pitcher, coming in toward
The doers and the day.
These images are all
Themselves emerging : they face their moment, love or go down,
A blade of the strong hay stands like light before me.
The sky is a torment on our eyes, the sky
Will not wait for this golden, it will not wait for form.
There is hardly a moment to stand before the storm.
There is hardly time to lay hand to the great earth.
Or time to tell again what power shines past storm.

Streshinsky. Woman Sleeping in Hay near Cows. 1958.Maxine Kumin (1925-).
from Looking For Luck: Poems (1992).

Day One: Above the river I hear
the loud fields giving up their gold,
the giant scissors-clack of Ruddy and Ned's
antique machine laying the timothy
and brome in windrows to be tedded,
this fierce anthood that persists
in taking from and giving back to the land,
defying the chrome millennium
that has contempt for smallscale backbreak.

Three emeralds, these interlocked three fields
free-leased for the tending and brushing out,
tidied up every fall like a well-swept
thrifty kitchen, blackberry and sumac
held at bay, gray birch and popple
brought down, the wild cherry lopped,
and gloriously every March
the wide white satin stretch besmirched
with dripping cartloads of manure.

Day Two: Sun bakes the long lines dry.
Late afternoon clouds pile up to stir
the teased-up mass with a southerly breeze
and since the forecast's fair, Ruddy and Ned
relax, play-punch, kidding each other,
calling each other Shirley, a name neither
owns up to, although once Scots-common
[Page 26 ]
enough in New England back when
their patched rig was a modern invention.

Their dogs, four littermates,
Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Allspice and Mace,
Chessies with gums as pink as rubber
erasers and pink-rimmed eyes,
flat irises you can't look into,
their dogs, companionable roughnecks
always riding in the backs of their pickups
or panting, lying under them for shade,
look benignly on their sweating labors.

Day Three: The old baler cobbled from
other parts, repaired last winter,
cussed at in the shed in finger-
splitting cold when rusted bolts
resisted naval jelly, Coca-Cola, and
had to be drilled out in gritty bits,
now thunking like a good eggbeater
kicks the four-foot cubes off
onto the stubble for the pickups

and aggie trucks---that's our three-quarter ton
Dodge '67, slant-six engine
on its third clutch, with a new tie rod,
absent one door handle and an
intermittent taillight---
we'll carry fifty-two bales at a time
if they're pitched up and set on right.
[Page 27 ]
Grunters and haulers, all of us
in these late-August heroics.

Interlude: The summer I was eleven
I boarded on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
Mornings we rode the ponies bareback
up through eiderdowns of ground fog,
up through the strong-armed apple orchard
that snatched at us no matter how we ducked,
up to the cows' vasty pasture, hooting and calling
until they assembled in their secret order
and we escorted them down to the milking barn
where each one gravely entered her stanchion.
There was no pushing or shoving.
All was as solemn as Quaker Meeting.

My four were: Lily, Martha, Grace and May.
May had only three tits. I learned to say tit
as it is written here. I learned to spend
twenty minutes per cow and five more stripping,
which you do by dipping your fingers in milk
and then flattening the aforementioned tit
again and again between forefinger and thumb
as you slide down it in a firm and soothing motion.
If they don't trust you they won't let down.
They'll get mastitis and their agony will be
forever on your conscience. To this day
I could close my eyes and strip a cow correctly.

I came to love my black and white ladies.
I loved pressing my cheek against each flank
[Page 28 ]
as I milked. I almost came to love cowflops,
crisp at the edges, smelly pancakes.
I got pinkeye that summer, they say
I caught it from the cows, I almost lost the eye.
Meanwhile, we had squirt fights, cow to cow.
We squirted the waiting kittens full.
We drank milk warm from the pail,
thirsty and thoughtless of the mystery
we drank from the cow's dark body,
then filed in for breakfast.

They put up hay loose there, the old way,
forking it into the loft from the wagon rack
while the sweaty horses snorted and switched off flies
and the littlest kids were commanded to trample it flat
in between loads until the entire bay
was alight with its radiant sun-dried manna....
It was paradise up there with dusty sun motes
you could write your name in as they skirled and drifted down.
There were ropes we swung on and dropped from and shinnied up
and the smell of the place was heaven, hurling me back
to some unknown plateau, tears standing up in my eyes
and an ancient hunger in my throat, a hunger....

Perhaps in the last great turn of the wheel
I was some sort of grazing animal.
Perhaps---trundling hay in my own barn
tonight and salivating from the sweetness---
I will be again.... When I read Neruda's
we are approaching a great and common tenderness
my mind startles and connects to this
[Page 29 ]
all but obsolete small scene above the river
where unspectacular people secure
their bulky loads and drive away at dusk.

Allegiance to the land is tenderness.
The luck of two good cuttings in this climate.
Now clean down to the alders in the swale,
the fields begin an autumn flush of growth,
the steady work of setting roots, and then
as in a long exhale, go dormant.

Coppola et al. Circle of Memory. 2003.Maxine Kumin (1925-).
from Selected Poems (1997).

First waking to the gray
of linsey-woolsey cloth
the vivid spotted dogs
the red-fox cattle and
the meeker-colored horses
flattened in snow fog

first waking into gray
flecked with common cock-
crow unfolding the same
chilblain-bruised feet
the old shoulder ache
Mama every day

remembering how you won
the death you wished for
the death you sidled up to
remembering how

like a child in late afternoon
drained from the jubilant sledding
you were content to coast
the run-out to a stop

booted and capped in the barn
joy enters where I haul
a hay bale by its binding string
and with my free hand pull
your easy death along.

Ritch. Bale. Photographer's Shadow, Montana. 2004.Hayden Carruth (1926-).
“The Baler”
from Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991 (1992).

You tourist composed upon that fence
to watch the quaint farmer at his quaint task
come closer, bring your camera here
or fasten your telescopic lens
if you're too indolent; all I ask
is that when you go home you take
a close-up among your color slides
of vacationland, to show we pay the price
for hay, this actual panic: no politic fear
but tumbling wild waves down the windrows, tides
of crickets, grasshoppers, meadow mice,
and half-feathered sparrows, whipped by a bleeding snake.

Wilson. Stacking Bales of Hay. 1991.Hayden Carruth (1926-).
“Emergency Haying”
from From Snow and Rock, from Chaos (1973).

Coming home with the last load I ride standing
on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

my arms strung
awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
Almost 500 bales we've put up

this afternoon, Marshall and I.
And of course I think of another who hung
like this on another cross. My hands are torn

by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
by my ulcer, not a lance. The acid in my throat
is only hayseed. Yet exhaustion and the way

my body hangs from twisted shoulders, suspended
on two points of pain in the rising
monoxide, recall that greater suffering.

Well, I change grip and the image
fades. It's been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop,

but wet, always wet. Haying was long delayed.
Now is our last chance to bring in
the winter's feed, and Marshall needs help.

[Page 33 ]
We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales
to the barn, these late, half-green,
improperly cured bales; some weigh 100 pounds

or more, yet must be lugged by the twine
across the field, tossed on the load, and then
at the barn unloaded on the conveyor

and distributed in the loft. I help---
I, the desk-servant, word-worker---
and hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

the close of day, how I fall down then. My hands
are sore, they flinch when I light my pipe.
I think of those who have done slave labor,

less able and less well prepared than I.
Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,
her father in the camps of Moldavia

and the Crimea, all clerks and housekeepers
herded to the gaunt fields of torture. Hands
too bloodied cannot bear

even the touch of air, even
the touch of love. I have a friend
whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

[Page 34 ]
and cut and cut, until one day
she snicked her hand off and took it
and threw it grandly at the sky. Now

in September our New England mountains
under a clear sky for which we're thankful at last
begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

in their first color. I look
beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

then in the other direction, eastward,
where a full new-risen moon like a pale
medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

beyond the barn. My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who

if not I? It must be so. My strength
is legion. And I stand up high
on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

woe to you, watch out
you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
to the fields where they can only die.

Hay raking. 1910.James Arlington Wright (1927-1980).
“Lament for my Brother on a Hayrake”
from Collected Poems (1971).

Cool with the touch of autumn, waters break
Out of the pump at dawn to clear my eyes;
I leave the house, to face the sacrifice
Of hay, the drag and death. By day, by moon,
I have seen my younger brother wipe his face
And heave his arm on steel. He need not pass
Under the blade to waste his life and break;

The hunching of the body is enough
To violate his bones. That bright machine
Strips the revolving earth of more than grass;
Powered by the fire of summer, bundles fall
Folded to die beside a burlap shroud;
And so my broken brother may lie mown
Out of the wasted fallows, winds return,
Corn-yellow tassels of his hair blow down,
The summer bear him sideways in a bale
Of darkness to October's mow of cloud.

Menihan. Barns. 1937.Galway Kinnell (1927-).
“Farm Picture”
Three Books: Body Rags; Mortal Acts, Mortal Words; The Past (1993).

Black earth
turned up, clods
shining on their
western sides, hay
sprouting on top
of bales of spoiled
hay, an old
farmer bent far
over like Australopithecus
robustus, carrying two dented
pails of water out
to the hen yard.

Thomas. Barn, Cumbria. 1994.Thom Gunn (1929-2004).
“At the Back of the North Wind”
from The Sense of Movement (1957).

All summer's warmth was stored there in the hay;
Below, the troughs of water froze: the boy
Climbed nightly up the rungs behind the stalls
And planted deep between the clothes he heard
The kind wind bluster, but the last he knew
Was sharp and filled his head, the smell of hay.

Here wrapped within the cobbled mews he woke.
Passing from summer, climbing down through winter
He broke into an air that kept no season:
Denying change, for it was always there.
It nipped the memory numb, scalding away
The castle of winter and the smell of hay.

The ostlers knew, but did not tell him more
Than hay is what we turn to. Other smells,
Horses, leather, manure, fresh sweat, and sweet
Mortality, he found them on the North.
That was her sister, East, that shrilled all day
And swept the mews dead clean from wisps of hay.

Paradise. Ranch Near San Luis Obispo. c1935.Gary Snyder (1930-).
“Hay for the Horses”
From Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems (1958).

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

Posted by Alan Ritch at October 28, 2004 01:38 PM