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. May 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 the 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.
How is our last chance to bring in
the winter’s feed, and Marshall needs help.
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 Moldovia
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
and cut and cut, until one day
she snicked her hand off and took it
and threw it grandly to the sky. Now
in September out New England mountains
under a clear sky for which we’re thankful at last
begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches
in their first colour. I look
beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
to the notch there the sunset is beginning,
then in the other direction, eastward,
where a full new-risen moon like a pale
medallion hangs in lavender cloud
beyond the barn. My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who
if not !? 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.
from Toward the Distant Islands: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), © Haydn Carruth 2006, used by permission of the author and the publisher. Recording from Hayden Carruth: A Listener’s Guide (Copper Canyon Press, 1999), used with their permission.