Paul Muldoon (1951-).
Paul Muldoon (1951-).
“Third Epistle to Timothy” [part V]
John Kinsella (1963-).
“The Burning of the Haystacks”
“Where the hay is now comes to me”
Cristiane Jacox Kyle.
“Dialog in Jordan, Montana”
“Haystack at Sunset near Giverny”
Chris Agee (1956- ).
“The Hay Barn”
[Scattered over some twenty-eight pages, Montag's is certainly the longest poem on our subject, although his typographic layout liberally spreads white space in margins which are ragged both right and left. The piece is essentially a relentless first person narrative of the several phases of haying--cutting, raking, turning, baling, carting, stacking--a forty acre field of alfalfa. In the face of this exhausting evocation of repetitive and uncomfortable labor, the reader might infer that the size of the hayfield is much bigger than forty acres. But the author is precise, even statistical, in his account. In its detailed technical description, it resembles the manuals-in-verse of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Here, for example, is an extract on making and loading bales, occupying only two of the twenty-eight pages.]
dry stems cuts
blue jeans cuts
my skin/ my thigh to
carry full weight, digging in & we
do not build the pyramids. we
build a load to ride rough ground,
stones as we brunt them
without spilling/ bales on ground; put
one bale in place, underway &
back the second/ first
to the end
of the rack,
bale next to
it/ right side
of the rack & the third
placed into center/ right
angles to the end
the end/ again. & we are
underway. movement sound & move-
ment jerking as we move
over sharp stubble &
clumps of dirt/ hay
our eyes & moisture
eyes/ catches, clean
the edge, slips out &
there: particles float
on tension, small pieces
like driftwood along
pulls moisture into air &
pulls air into updrafts &
once around the field/ half
a load before we
know it: my brother
says his arms are
tired: i tell him
hey i'll trade you
work you've got it
easy don't tell me
&my father's laughing: move-
ment sound movement-caught/ the knots
running through the needles
caught/ twine broken, we knew
it, & we are ready: stop
jump off the flat-rack, flip
open: pull out twine, pocket
knife to cut it, re-
thread it through, work
into place, work with
delicate fingers belied by
thickness,my father can
splice rope with
any sailor,no perfect
job; this is
not splicing/ threading through
& tying knots again, running
onto ground. i pick up
the bunches, feed them
in again, careful
of drive-shaft, power-take-ff,
feed in the bales:metal
clanging/ sound in ears like cotton,
sound in hair, wind in hair, hay dust
in hair & eyes & salt in sweat cuts
eyes like cold air in winter &
the baler starts
tying knots/ up onto
the flat-rack, soon a load
& like a monument, it is
wide as the afternoon,
wider than the sun.
He saw brightly through the trees
a barn of cypress the morning he was twelve years old.
A crane whiter than possible in that angle of the sun
flew slower than history past the gray,
feathery planks. A barn beyond imagining, forbidden.
In twenty years nothing shone brighter, not women
nor the taste of the blade's edge in the mouth,
the sharp taste of steel which cuts saliva.
He hunted a little through the day,
he walked in circles, he shot
once. He felt the barn grow precious
in its light like a blister. He touched it
with his tongue.
He saw the last crane
fly to the nest that night, its feathers blue from the sun
going. He entered the high barn and knelt
behind bales of hay clean and full of themselves
he took himself in his hands
and watched pale women he could never know; imagined
blond ones in the loft, a choir watching. Not enough,
but something to block for a moment the light;
[Page 67 ]
his hand trembled when he finished. His own smell sharper
than the hay pushed him up the path home
but he turned once and looked at the barn in last light
as if women were there, waiting till he grew
a few more years.
Twenty years is enough
to destroy an abandoned barn. And the death
of a large white bird
in the shaft of sun through the trees makes him lonely.
So does the lock on his daughter's diary
opened with a hair-pin.
Although the field lay cut in swaths,
Grass at the edge survived the crop:
Stiff stems, with lateral blades of leaf,
Dense cattail flower-spikes at the top.
If there was breeze and open sky,
We raked each swath into a row;
If not, we took the hay to dry
To the barn’s golden-showering mow.
The hay we forked there from the truck
Was thatched resilience where it fell,
And I took pleasure in the thought
The fresh hay’s name was mine as well.
Work was a soothing, rhythmic ache;
Hay stuck where skin or clothes were damp.
At length, the pickup truck would shake
Its last stack up the barn’s wood ramp.
Pumping a handpump’s iron arm,
I washed myself as best I could,
Then watched the acres of the farm
Draw lengthening shadows from the wood
Across the grass, which seemed a thing
In which the lonely and concealed
Had risen from its sorrowing
And flourished in the open field.
of hay. (More accurately, a bale of lucerne
on the roof rack,
a bale of lucerne or fescue or alfalfa.)
My hands are raw. I'm itching to cut the twine, to unpack
that hay-accordion, that hay-concertina.
It must be ten o'clock. There's still enough light
(not least from the glow
of the bales themselves) for a body to ascertain
that when one bursts, as now, something takes flight
from those hot and heavy box-pleats. This much, at least, I know.
He said, my pretty fair maid, if it is as you say,
I'll do my best endeavours in cutting of your hay,
For in your lovely countenance I never saw a frown,
So my lovely lass, I'll cut your grass, that's ne'er been trampled down.
Building hay even now, even now drawing level with the team's head-brass,
buoyed up by nothing more than the ballast
of hay---meadow cat's-tail, lucerne, the leaf upon trodden leaf
of white clover and red---
drawing level now with the taper-blooms of a horse chestnut.
Already light in the head.
'Though you speak, young Muldoon ...' Cummins calls up from trimming the skirt
of the haycock, 'though you speak with the tongue
of an angel, I see you for what you are ... Malevolent.
Not only a member of the church malignant but a malevolent spirit.'
The hay has just been stacked
in neat yellow bricks like some complex
puzzle that needs to be solved.
The sheds full, it sits alone out there
in the stark yellow paddock---pathetic edifice
waiting to be torched or blown away.
But it's got Escher written all over it
so there's a sense of the infinite.
Though early summer storms
can be pretty savage around here.
Lightning-struck trees along the roadsides
are testament to this. Dad reckons
we'd better get straight to it. Covering
the stack with blue plastic sheeting
and staking it deep in the ground.
School's just finished and next
year it'll be university in the city.
Art history. None of this landscape
stuff---give me Jeff Koons fucking
Cicciolina, those fleshy cybernauts
without a field or ear of wheat
in sight. So it's hard to get motivated
and Dad tells me I'm not too big
for a clip under the ear. I wonder
if he's joking but get out there
with my brothers and get stuck into it.
I tell them about Far from
the Madding Crowd and work up a sweat
thinking about Cicciolina. And how stylish
it would be to have a film version
[Page 53 ]
with Koons instead of Alan Bates.
But keeping Julie Christie as
Bathsheba Everdene. Gross!
The blue plastic flaps viciously
as the wind lifts. It cracks in our faces.
It catches my youngest brother
and slices his cheek. The blood
spray-paints they hay. He keeps
at it, swearing at the top of his voice.
Lightning highlights the installation
and for a dreadful moment
we seem to be furiously adrift
in the vast ocean of the paddock.
Over the hills where the storm's dark eye
dilates. The rain drives hard
and I forget about everything. Finally
the hay is wrapped. Christo appears
in my head and I keep him there.
Laved in the flame as in a Sacrament ...--Thomas Merton
There was a rash of burnings
that autumn--the arson squad
said circumstances were suspicious,
but there was a lack of evidence
to pursue a prosecution.
Always at evening, in heavy weather,
humidity insisting something happen.
Storms came later, but there was no lightning
to blame. And the pattern pushed
the odds out of orbit: with a bit
of imagination, you could make five
points with the town as the centre.
Pentacle, Pentecost, pent-up energy.
The wick lit, they just erupted,
traces of sap crackling like trees
rundown by bushfire. At a point
above the stacks a blue halo, wavering
circle that lopped down over the last light
of days just not right for seeding.
On the fifth occasion, the owners
of one property called on the Anglican
minister to do a blessing, and then, for good
measure, the Catholic priest. An old Aunt
suggested looking back into the Old
Testament, talking persistently
about Jerusalem belonging to all religions,
of plagues and desert and exile,
her long-dead husband's Jewish roots
lost to the fires, the hidden fuel
that feeds the burning of haystacks.
The day we lost six calves, I came
home early, my fingers bitten
with blood, my voice locked up in shame
at the doorway. "Don't let the cold in
John," your eyes bit off my name
before I reached you, your chin
dropped down, your small wrists
arched as you knit, I listened
as the fire trembled and hissed,
the click of the needles chilling
my skin. I looked out the window.
The calves were already hidden
from me and magpies and crows.
I brushed the snow from my mittens,
called the dogs, headed back into the snow.
I count what we have left, how many calves
what cows, which bull has shrunk to half
his weight. I subtract pounds of feed, the last
bales of hay, weigh loss against loss,
calculating between piles of laundry,
your shirts, your thin socks, the sheets
hanging in the stale heat of the fire.
[Page 36 ]
What section are you in now? What fences
now need fixing? I watch your hands
gripping the rusting wire, your shadow
clinging, your eyes marking the last post
before you finish with the first.
You go back out there, quiet like a man.
In the heat of the day,
farmers and farm hands
Lift fork loads of clover
in rhythm to the sound of bees
that hums in their ears like the future
of the horse drawn wagon whose dust
echoes the coming of machines. Still
in this sumer, 1949, my father is
working the top of the hayrick,
his muscle and bone, sweet as the smell,
strong as the hone of the bee. Caught
in this motion he doesn't feel himself
fall until he sees the ground and the set
aside hay fork sticking out of his thigh.
Then the man, who drives the wagon,
the one who pulls the fork from his leg,
takes his chew of tobacco and slaps it
on the wound, saying this will cure
anything and it does; my father
remembers those days of scything
his youth, like mine, when we were all
certain of cures for everything.
Not in the barn, spare sided plank by no plank.
Under the old roof in the rain, barn swallows
make a bird wind in the collar beams.
I think what it would be to live here
And I see the needle of summer
poking its head this way. How the hay shoots
will sprout the earth then, almost anemones,
gold spines arching up, the cloud’s white water
Through the heaved lungs of May, June, July,
the ridge board bending in my head,
hair winnows, kelp vines in the shallows
breaking surface then sailing landward,
Antennae touch ground and burn, fire
across August nights or, in a slower way: hay
into horse and horse fire, skull flowers
blooming in the loam at the sun drenched brain stem,
the blood there spurling
plum-dark as a mane shedding
a light shower.
Just last year, gnarled as a hedge root,
Bill went sun to sun all summer long, worked
three hundred acres and eighty cows.
He and Mary liked lots o things and being
busy; their kids, grown up, were just the same.
Sometimes the old ones talked about cutting
down, taking it easy, but they didn’t.
That ordinary July day, had crisped the hay
new-mown by ten, to ready by one.
Bill felt the burning metal seat, shifted
his body, and drove out to the baler
waiting in the barn. He hooked it up, dragged
it out to the field, a great saucer spilling
windrows of red clover southwest. On the first round
down in a slough, the baler clogged: Bill stood
straining to clear it when dazzling glory
pinned him on his elbows to the hot steel:
he trembled there in that perfumed oven
until his knees gave way and h dripped flat
to the clipped stems where Mary found him, pulse
draining, struck dumb by the sun, a half hour
He sits under the maples now
and cries, not because he hurts or is mad
but because it ended and didn’t.
Not the newies with their silly Van Gogh swirls
but the standard block of dessicated perfumes.
A fifty-acre paddock gridlocked with them,
each one as green and slow-bunched as a caterpillar,
the lasered space as chocked as a trail bike’s tread.
Only once there’s one diving on its either end
where the strong-armed baler baled dissent
(a digit raised against the uniformity on show)
while the rest is passive in its even traffic jam
which from above becomes a repetitious Pianola roll
then in 3D is more like mid-lines of tidy droppings.
A lane is kept aside on each mowed stretch
and well before the outside windrows are pressed
the carters start to gather there like formalists.
“Haystack at Sunset near Giverny”
Literary Review (Fall 1993).
An hour ago the slant light at Giverny articulated the stubble of wheat -
each separate stalk robed in an aura that eased it out of the chthonic
dark, into a flood tide of light.
But now (this hour, now) this minute, sunset lingers - then
surrenders ... The dying light: so numinous it blesses what it touches. A
field begins to quiver, then gives over to its other.
A sea of wheat (slow rise, slow tumble) laps the fogbound shore, where
trees and houses melt and run together like wet paint. A shape of hay:
so huge it sinks the shipwrecked sun.
The endless metamorphosis dreams on.
You have to roll up the windows.
Silos, resembling bullets, point past a barn’s
red arches. The stench finds all vents.
Your eyes water. Hay, alfalfa, cornstalks…
Fermentation, up and down the silo—drip drip
and black rot, then fodder.
Look at the cows past fences.
Look at the house, lightning rods above the attic’s
blue shutters. Look at the man on a tractor
way off, his green and yellow cap. Green
on his boots, green under his fingernails…
Here come his green kids off the school bus
long after you’ve driven past. A boy
and girl about 12 and 13. Teach showed a film
about sex today—no faces, just body parts.
Someone whispered It’ll make you close your eyes.
The boy must cut firewood and bring in
the cows before he can play baseball.
After the green drips long into fall and winter
when the tractor backs up to the silo,
the stink then socks the lungs, clears his head
as he works a pitchfork, clarifies geometry
and baseball fusing in a dream of a curve
he finally knocks over the charged fence.
Before sleep the girl pictures some actor’s face
and wonders how her body moved.
The words the teacher muttered—vas deferens,
fallopian tubes—hung as heavy on the class
as looks the boys gave the girls.
And if the girl remembers her dreams, sex
may or may not show—one stalk working its way
into another inside the silver tip
under the stars she can see from her window,
and stares at when she hears her mother
cry out through the wall.
Riches of hay were hoarded
away in the barn, a cache
stuffed under each mattress.
Withdrawals were made
all winter, forked out
from a frosty cart,
loose clumps poking
from the smoking
mouths of cattle
who itched long
on wattle posts.
the hay smelt yet
of dusty summer,
of the beehive domes
swept dreamily home
on a horse-drawn pulley-car,
listing hem brushing
against the uneven field
sides ripping on thorns
losing wisps to
a hedge-congested lane;
then unclasped, uncorseted
from twine bindings,
added to the stockpile
with sweaty, shirtless heaves
of men relieved
to have crammed each cavity
before the rodent-patter
of rain, creating a sanctuary
again, love nest,
for brooding hens
with dung-speckled eggs.
Ruminate on abundance
there some Sunday
still in your suit,
rooted with wonder
to the ground.
In the early morning
I walk through the paddocks of newly cut hay,
lying strand by strand, seed pods just forming,
the white clover starting to yellow,
with a sweet and salty smell,
like I imagine your skin to be
after making love.
A moistness underfoot
tells me all this
as I slip a little
on bruised blades
of coxfoot, porto and rye.
In two days it will be turned, folded in
with rakes shuddering through,
and then, by late afternoon
rolled and baled,
with stalks and seed bleaching to white
on the bare ground,
and all through summer
as I walk past the tram,
there will be this pepper and salt smell,
and I will want to lie in the warmth,
my skin pricking
with the thought of you.
June grasses had burgeoned to monumental hay: slabs and beds
Printed in eights by the baler's sledge following its green coil
Of concentric windrows like stone spirals at New Grange or Radmilja
To a last comma near the midpoint of the O
Where those eight dolmens stand at Giant's Ring. Then stacked
Into stooks "like lambdas," they darkened
To outlines of Mayan temples gathering shadow
In the late light breaking
Low from floes and plateaux, dark quadrilaterals
On the lit immaculate nap of shaven stubble
That reminded me that art is dark
For all its shining genesis. Seeing in stone
The image of hay, I saw too the vision polarized to God's glyph
Vanishing midpoint into nothing
(Swan-necked, double-helix, bull's-eyes) on stelae swimming
In grass at the limestone necropolis on the road to Stolac
That passes the dumps of its razed mosques. Then, pausing to smoke,
Two men stood waiting to upend the last bales of an evening's work.
ash only of form of existence
a whisper coaxes me to fade
into a color of bone a color of cotton
shall fade away
a lit cigarette
ashing into a crumble until the face
all the way up begins to form
back into existence
a me soulful without recognition
begins to exist in ashes of a past
past of lighting a cigarette
inhale smoke gives breath
breath gives life to me of bone
of cotton a self strutting
carrying myself torn into yourself
no longer nevermore
you strut by a bird
comes by hay
to the knees i feel the haystack rise
color of bone color of cotton
i begin existence inhaling
inhaling from the hips to waist
breasts the neck all the way
up comes out a whisper
song of straw silently strutting
by a haystack
with that whisper
the body begins to ash like a cigarette
beginning from feet
to knees then from
hips to waist
breasts neck all the way up
until a face crumbles
into a new complexion of ash
Watch your step
in the barn’s attic.
Words are grails of memory.
Hay is not sturdy.
In the barn’s attic
atop bale pyramid
hay is not sturdy;
it cradles each leap or slip
from atop bale pyramid.
A feather hovers in the sleeper’s breath.
It cradles each leap or slip
appearing in its path.
A feather hovers in the sleeper’s breath
until cadence is broken by a gasp
appearing in its path,
itches scratched away.
Until cadence is broken by a gasp
words are grails of memory,
itches scratched away.
Watch your step.
In a pasture of trampled summer grass,
Near a barn used for hiding weapons in the old days,
Two young calves rear back in the moonlight.
Although they have no horns yet, the clash
in a watering trough
Like heavy aircraft passing. Then for practice,
A hawk soars from a stag pine crown and circles.
The young calves turn and drink as the bird
Fades. So early, the sky’s first scrim of light
Seems to be rising on a dress rehearsal:
For the day to come, for the lead that will flow
Across a twice
While fire flings itself aloft
And tiny coffins hide behind the hayricks.
For make no mistake, this Balkan sun
Is everybody’s ally. Too faint at first
To take up sides in a dark valley, it will show
Its real colors later, proving
An equal friend
perhaps before breakfast
To the hand on the hilt and the eye in the crosshairs
Of every knife and rifle in the country.
Wheels of baled hay bask in October sun:
Gold circles strewn across a sloping field,
They seem arranged as if each one
Has found its place; together they appeal
To some glimpsed order in my mind
Preceding my chance pausing here--
A randomness that also seems designed.
Gold circles strewn across the sloping field
Evoke a silence deep as my deep fear
Of emptiness; I feel the scene requires
A listener who can respond with words, yet who
Prolongs the silence that I still desire,
Relieved as clacking crows come flashing through,
Whose blackness shows chance radiance of fire.
Yet stillness in the field remains for everyone:
Wheels of baled hay bask in the October sun.