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. We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales to the barn, these late, half-green, improperly cured bales; some weigh 150 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 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.
Hayden Carruth's "Emergency Haying," from Toward the Distant Islands: New & Selected Poems (2006) is used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.