Once in a summer
Once in a summer at haying time,
My uncle Dave and the neighbour—
A coarse fellow in bib overalls
Who shat in the barnyard among his beeves
Whenever the urge took him—
Gave me a pitchfork and said to come along.
Uncle Dave didn’t have a baler,
Just an old side-sickle mower
And an iron rake,
Pulled behind a big green Oliver,
The hay left in neat parallel rows
Turning pale and sweet in the sun.
Came the day the Oliver got hitched
To a flat-bed wagon with rubber-tired wheels,
We pitched the hay up in heavy forkfuls,
Carefully, like thatchers,
Until the wagon became invisible
And the hay rose up tall as a cottage roof.
The secret lay in cross-lapping the unbound sheaves,
Each holding each in place,
For the ride to the threshing floor,
Where it all came off in the order it went on,
Lifted and thrown in a high arc
Into hay mows on either side.
I made a mess of my first attempts,
Seeking purchase where nothing was,
Hay flying everywhere,
And on the way to the barn,
Riding on top of the slippery pile,
Ran my foot on a pitchfork tine.
The men said nothing, but smiled,
Remembering no doubt boyhood
And first lessons
And men now dead who had likewise smiled.
Mind where you lay your tools;
Don’t stand on the sheaf you mean to lift.