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The Hayfield Poem

Part I: Ink and Night

When a drunk enters your poem

best you can do is

steer him from the wildflowers.

He’ll have little regard.

My drunk farms an Ozark hill

where midsummer storms

lashed at him and his crops

until there was nothing

save a twelve-pack of bud

nearly done by noon

when the sun came out,

followed by wild blooms,

and then the farmer—

his last can in hand—

headlong for my bloom-filled

humid haiku of a meadow

at the end of a muddy lane.

One caesura. I plant it

in the mud of that lane

not to trip the farmer

just divert him. He stops, finds it

crunchy and suspicious

under his boot.

He looks around, behind,

leans back a bit, belches, turns

away from the meadow

and out of my haiku.

Instead, he staggers into the rain-

soaked hayfield and starts to laugh.

Laughs at the ruckus he’s causing,

at the belated sun, at himself. Arnold–

his friends call him Arnie–

laughs at how wet his overalls are.

It’s not a pretty sight and nothing

he’d want his neighbors to see

or report. Hiding him, though,

calls for what’s more crude,

less poetic license:

As I break open my  pen

ink and night fall together

eclipsing his passage, my verse,

and our sun. For words of comfort

I’m thinking Blind Willie’s

“Dark Was the Night–

Cold Was the Ground,”

but this drunk farmer’s forgotten

Willie and me. He does pray

every night before bed

which he recalls

as he falls backward

hands at his side, the old prayer

slurred, dopplering, and over

when he hits the ground

like a dead tree.

Part II: An Unlucky Darkness

Damage report after Arnie’s fall:

dislocation of his ring finger;

sprain of one iambic foot;

wildlife confounded

by the rush of day;

adjectives for “sunset” enjambed

by the quickness of night;

and fireflies pining for dusk.

“An unlucky darkness

invaded the world”

is a line I’m about to scratch

when the field bugs

find Arnie. Upon his overalls,

T-shirt; upon the silver hair;

upon this snoozing Gulliver,

and in the new light

cast by a paper moon,

two Ionian beetles—

one’s tortoise-colored,

the other armored for war–

charge up Arnie’s sleeves

for dry refuge.

A cricket and trap-door spider

together on a denim stage

for the first time

but then upstaged

by Daddy Long Legs

who herself carries

three generations

of red velvet mites.

The spoon-shaped species

of the Arkansas walking stick,

not known to have ever waddled

this far north, is here tonight,

a pair of them, brothers,

moving toward Arnie’s left knee

but they see me and

stop short. I promise to not

report them to Immigration.

Arnie wakes with a low chuckle

at this little joke,

then passes out again.

Part III: Night and Fire

He had staggered into the hayfield
lonely as that rain-cloud
he did begrudge,
and though beer and ink

now bring him sleep,
he’ll wake to a day stained
with a hangover, ruined hay, and
what he calls his “agonization”

over the women he’s known.
What can the poet do?
With his final few lines?
Salvage part of a crop, perhaps.

I mow the hay with irony;
dry it with sardonic breezes
(they have that electric feel);
leave wide margins with a rake; and
twine the bales into eight stanzas.

A lightning strike
to see the fieldwork by
shows that all’s well on field & page. Or,
as my fellow creator puts it in Genesis,
All is good.

But in the anti-matter of the after-flash
I see Arnie start to roll over
on top of the bugs,
some of which are endangered.

I grab another pen and
as Arnie rolls I write,
scribbling out anything
to boost the bugs’ chances for life:

quick prescriptions for steroids,
uppers, and prosthetics; permits for base-
jumping gear; and high level
security clearances for escape-

kennings such as tick-jets,
ant-propellers and mantis-springs.
Everything in my power.
I even murmur Arnie’s prayer.

But not all jump free:
A spider is squished,
a moth is squashed,
and a pall falls in the fake night

where injury, mutation and death
escalate in a moonlight
of my own making.
What have I done?

The stanzas leading to Hell
are lined with good intentions
for meadows and wildflowers.
Where should I have put Arnie

until the poem was over?
The barn?
The silo?
Down a well?

Or should I stop writing poems?
Dare I think about that?

I nod and write up a chair.
Rub two words together
to start a fire. Throw on every log
I can think up.

Night and fire take their time
and when they know each other
there is a new quiet
out of which comes ancient sound.

The cicadas’ rhythmic hum
the crickets’ mournful chirp and
the husky croak of frogs are koans
about sex and death on earth

so I look up at a brilliant night sky—
suddenly Arnie mumbles a name,
the first word he’s spoke
(not counting his prayer)
since buying the beer—
and I wonder if the sky’s stars
still reflect their light in
my dimming eyes

as I watch this last poem
come to an end.

Wait . . . was it a woman’s name?

He says it again. My next poem—
no, a song—
will be entitled with her name.
I hope it plays well out here
and that Arnie sleeps like the moon.

Note on caesuras: As a poetic device, the caesura is a rhythmic break or pause in the flow of a poem.  Usually introduced in the middle of a line of verse, the caesura’s placement may be varied for different effects.

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