Recently, when I went out to check my mail, I saw my neighbor, Betty, and her granddaughter. Her granddaughter told me that her two sons had gone haying that day. She said they were making $20 an hour. I was a bit stunned at that, but she said they really have to work hard for it, no standing around. Having done haying myself, I know that’s true. It’s a grueling job.

It’s no surprise that it’s hard to find good help these days. Everywhere I go there are signs out looking for workers. Plus, haying is just part-time work requiring stamina and a certain amount of strength. So it makes sense to pay well.

When I hayed though, I didn’t get paid at all. Our neighbors in Ripley kept goats and grew hay for them. When the weather was looking ominous, we gave them a hand, working as long as was needed to get the bales under cover before rain came. No money changed hands. It was what one neighbor did to help another. In turn, we never hesitated to call on them when we needed help.

Julia Bouwsma does a good job of describing the job — sweat, blackflies, chaff — it’s all there. Like me, Julia didn’t get paid, but did it to help out her in-laws. This is a fine example of her work, a loose sonnet that starts by denying there’s any poetry in haying and then goes on to make a poem from it.

On this particular occasion, she says, “We were racing to get the last of the second cutting in as a thunderstorm loomed on the edge of breaking, the sky growing darker and darker by the minute.” You can feel the urgency in her poem, can see them tossing bales up onto the wagon, then later into the barn. She notes that the rhythm of the work, “tossing, lifting, and stacking in tandem,” is “a physical embodiment of poetry.”

Bouwsma has recently been named Maine Poet Laureate. She lives off-the-grid in the mountains of western Maine, and is no stranger to hard work. This poem is from her first book, “Work by Bloodlight,” published by Cider Press Review. Her second book, “Midden,” published by Fordham University Press, renders the tale of Malaga Island in “shattering simplicity.” These poems highlight the plight of “mixed-race” citizens of Maine who were forcibly removed from their homes in 1912 by the state government. If you are not familiar with this sad tale, you can read more about it on the Maine State Museum website, here.

This year the 16th Annual Belfast Poetry Festival is pleased to have Bouwsma as a participant. The festival takes place Oct. 16. Julia will be hosting a workshop titled, “Body of Language: A Generative Poetry Workshop” on Zoom, from 1 to 3 p.m. I’m also leading a workshop, to be held in person at Waterfall Arts, titled “Mining Words: A Generative Poetry Workshop.”  A third workshop featuring Belfast poet and editor Maya Stein, is called “Listening for Revision: A Poetry Editing Workshop.” You can sign up for any of these workshops online at http://belfastpoetry.com/work-shops-2/.

Bouwsma will also be featured as part of the evening showcase and multimedia extravaganza, where she is paired with writer and multimedia artist Asata Radcliffe. It should be an exciting evening! You can go to http://belfastpoetry.com/ for more information and to register for the Zoom link.

Haying

There is no poetry in this work. Sweat flows spine like a river, drowns

blackflies in my waistband and chaff splinters fissure skin, arms, and chest

until my whole body is a burning barn. Words thicken a blanket

of storm clouds, a silence that hangs above our running limbs

until it smothers thought. The bales lie in the field waiting. The sky opens

its mouth to let its darkness out, and we know this moment only as now:

a counting off: one bale passed between six sets of hands, one bale pressed

into place beneath the eaves, one truckload and another, our bodies

which cannot stop moving even as rain begins to beat its fists against

the barn roof, even as thunder sounds the pocketknife thrown

to the pile of sheet metal, even as bales spoil in the field until our bodies

lose the language of pain — until there is no before us and no after us.

The cat’s eyes perch in the blackened barn, two kerosene flares waiting:

only the one more bale the cat needs to reach the swallow’s nest.

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s poet laureate.

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