Wednesday, September 14, 2011


You never baled hay after the rain; you never baled
until the grass was dry as dust, raked over from
the bottom up and turned a light green from the
darkness it had drunk from the black soil
he'd fertilized the winter before with manure.
You never baled it wet because in the moww,
under thousands of bales, that wet grass
heated up and caught fire over time. A hot bale
they called it.

In the heat your body caked with chaff;
It was so bad you blew black snot into a hanky,
and the water you poured down yourself from the pewter
or plastic wash basins she set out an hour ago
was black, too. In the shade it didn't matter.
You'd lie there to catch a wink before she put up the meal.
Coolness and water soaking in deep after heat.

We stacked the bales in criss-cross rows, using their weight
and roughness as friction to pack them together. The wagons
had no sides, just four by fours nailed with two wood planks
at top and bottom in the back. The whole load rested against this
and rode on itself, self contained. (When I began
to write poetry, I imagined poems made like that.)

Dad tried to get a week or two off from the factory to bale.
But if it rained that week, he baled after a single or double
shift, sometimes a night shift. I don't blame him
for dreaming of the day when I'd load and unload
the wagons myself, even with his surly self-hate
and lack of emotions resembling love.

The moww was under a tin roof. As you stacked the bales
higher, the air grew scarce and hotter. Later on, I
recited Pound and wrote poems in my head all day
under that heat and sweat, like a Zen koan to
disembody myself from the drudgery and boredom--
compared to the fires of Blake and luminous Provence.
My father hated my addiction to words. If only
from envy, or maybe just because it had no use.
But my love of riddles came in handy once.
The baler broke a link in the chain that ran the crusher.
The chain in his hands, he tried to piece it together
again, but the links did not fit right. He snidely asked me;
I didn't see it either. We lost a day waiting for the mechanic.
That night I dreamed how the pieces fit.

When I told them I'd seen it that way, they laughed.
And when I showed them, they did not know what to say.
We just went back to work, tucked it away as one of those things.
I used to sing songs to the sound of the tractor and baler.
How strange to think of these things. The rain
on the roof has its music, too: the music of the past
and a life that no one will ever live again. Those times come
together as pieces in a dream, but the links
are jumbled, and I don't believe I'll ever put it together again.

copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.


  1.! What a capture! I had to spend a summer haying was to build character and work ethic...(I can surely think of better ways!) I can see your Dad, and know well his opinion of the words...Just a fantastic write, Poet...Loved it!

  2. wow..way cool how you connect the dream of how the pieces fit together with that pieces in the end, that will never come the whole set up...the poems made like hay rows... i used to help a lot with haying in the summer holidays when i was a kid and spent weeks on my uncle's farm - always loved the breaks i went swimming in the quarry pond with my cousin-- hay makes for a good metaphor here...really like it much..esp. the last stanza took my breath away

  3. wow man...there is a lot of hert in this...and fascinating story telling as well...great textures...and i love the development of it from beginning to end...i have spent some days on the farm...i feel you on not knowing where the memories fit at times either...really well done brother

  4. adore how you build up a story. puts me into dreamy nostalgic mood for some reasons. beautiful write, skillful and hearfelt.

  5. This is a great story. I hayed many years ago, and the details you write bring back those days in a hurry. You layer this with your fixation on arranging words and ideas. That's work too, and you make it connect seamlessly. Very nice job.

  6. Phew.... that all sounds like such hard work. I knew it wasn't as easy as it all looks but had no idea so much went into it all. Learned a lot from reading this, especially how they can catch fire if baled when wet. I always won
    dered why they left them out like that when it was pouring down. Now, I know. What a wonderful piece filled with great imagery this is.

  7. Charles, I was right there like a silent guest in your memory. The genuine reality of this poem felt like we were talking about old times over a beer in a pub, beautiful. The lined between memory and fiction are blurred sometimes, but the big dreams stick; your fixation with words has paid off too!

  8. Personal storytelling as myth, as symbol, as progression. The textures, touch, life force itself is palpable in this piece. Any number of songs came to mind..but after reading it, a favorite - it's a lazy afternoon. I could smell the hay and feel the heat.

  9. Love, love, love the way you brought the two ideas together, and at the same time told a story with most striking and vivid images. Really great on so many levels.

    Excellent work here.

  10. Nice circling around to the end--vivid sense of dreams, time and place, and person--each character distinct. No work is harder or dirtier or less sure than farming, and bucking bales is one of the hardest, most tedious and demanding chores there is. That the narrator could even think of poetry, or of stacking words like bales says a lot about what he was made of, Charles. And it's as golden as the light on new mown hay. A luminous, life-crafted piece.

  11. Nice recollection .... I have never been on a farm so this was an interesting read. I like how you dreamt of the pieces together, and nostalgia in your last stanza ~ Beautiful share ~

  12. Charles, you continue to impress me with the variety of your poetic stylings. Lots to like in here, for me, especially the dream aspect. I love that you keep returning to the baling, very significant and symbolic, really a great touch. Thanks.

  13. Ugg I spent many a years on a farm with the cows and hail bailers and stuff like that. Not memories I am fond of to any large degree. But you brought back the nice side of it for me.

  14. Charles, great storytelling. Lovely write.

  15. I know this is boring but the price of baled hay here is astronomical...oh well you will introduce farm topics:)...
    The sound of rain on a tin roof is music. Your father did not like your addiction to words because most parents want clones of themselves.
    "I used to song songs to the tractor and baler"
    We must have very different machinery:)
    Country boys make very good poets I think.

  16. Your expanding here for me in your writing, i love short stories to get into. Also nice reading you, I don't you had a post the last two times. blessings.

  17. I think you just did put those pieces together -- why else do we write memoir, writing the self forward by going back to its roots? The invisible connections Heraklitos declared in some godlike fit of consciousness are the ones closest to dream -- making impossible things fit -- as the poem allows things to dry sufficiently over time before attempting to bale the past and stack it properly. It's a daunting, perhaps impossible task -- who are we to try naming such things as Carrying On The Father's Work - yet that, I think, is exactly, in one perfect metaphorical work, is what you've done, at least the heart of the heat of that work. My father can talk up a storm but he can't write worth a damn; he took that inarticulate ardor and used it to raise stones. I write reams taller than any stone he's raised (though with a tenth of their substance). What difference? Great job, Chazz - Brendan

  18. Hay and poetry...who woulda thunk....but then, Chazzy, you can make silk from a sow's ear. Good stuff!

  19. Wonderful, wonderful. The poem a bit like a hot bale--memories of a young man (wet behind the ears, dewy-hearted?) Just terrific k.

  20. Now THAT's what I call poetry! A wonderful read that took me back to the days of my youth. Nowadays haymaking isn't what it was - either huge bales no human could send flying up the stack from the end of a pitchfork, or - worse - instant silage carted straight after cutting. It ain't natural, say I.

  21. This is excellent. Since I grew up in farming country in the Northeast, I know about baling and hay and some times the tragedies of what that baler can do..or perhaps it was another machine that took the leg off a school chum, and disfigured another so we called him 'leatherface' behind his back and he lurched through high school a pariah.

    Farming ain't for sisses.

    This poem is so wonderful, bringing back so long ago memories and there isn't a false step in its entirity. I love the addiction to words, as I think all of us poets when you are just formatting in our minds, taking us away from the mundane chores and places we existed in.

    Thank you, Charles for this journey backward.

    Lady Nyo

  22. These are my favorite sections:

    "was so bad you blew black snot into a hanky,
    and the water you poured down yourself from the pewter
    or plastic wash basins"

    "using their weight
    and roughness as friction" ("friction" is such a great word)

    "surly self-hate"

    "like a Zen koan to
    disembody myself"

  23. wow! the ending sang through my mind!

    great write!

  24. Yes, I'll simply add my 'hear, hear' to Brendan's chorus on this one. Glorious.

  25. Love the idea of writing poems in your head, like Zen koans, in the midst of all the heat and sweat. Such a vivid story in this poem. Like many of the other commenters, I find it taking me back to childhood and times in the countryside. Working on a farm is hard, and yet magical. Your poem speaks of that. Wonderful!

  26. This is mesmerizing! I love it, with the dream leaving all speechless. So evocative. Great write!

  27. The genius that is Charles Miller :-)