Hayfield at Sundown

/ /


Near dusk, the day before the service,
we walked along the dirt farm road,
my wife and I, as far as the trailer, the “hunt club.”
Here, because of the fire, the brother of hers
who’d kept the farmhouse up was bunking . . . who’d said,

“Just put a tin-foil hat on my head when it thunders
and wheel me into the hayfield, into the lightning.”
He’d seen, while peeling shrimp for his mother,
himself like her at ninety-three, bed-bound.

Moved to a rest home closer to home by her children—
the farm, where she made home (with black help, sure)
some sixty years but there endured
after their father’s death mere months—

sally though she did at eighty-nine
down the aisle on the arm of her high school beau,
then forth two states away with not a thing,
it vexed her daughter to wonder,
much less her myriad porcelain avatars,

the bathing beauties—their mother could rouse herself
only long enough to nibble the shrimp.


Three days after she died, the farmhouse caught
on fire. The box containing her ashes,
scarcely more than a shoe-full—
that “cultivated marble” box which sat
on a wooden table, which stood itself at the edge
of the carpet grassing the gravesite—was maybe the size
of a shoebox. I pictured the flames from under that rocker
of hers, the one that swiveled, lapping her toes,
herself with a pottery goblet of Chardonnay

in her hand. In fact, and weird it was,
the rocker sat exactly above
where, under the carpeted hardwood, a wire,
perhaps gnawed through by a varmint
(her own familiar was it?), had sizzled; the joist
smoldered for hours, the fireman said
who sawed through the flooring, hosed out the inferno.

I pictured, instead of a critter, a timed-out child
hugging her knees and fuming,
swelling genie-like inside the wall
until she burst, looked like, from the pantry,
a storm-cloud choking the cavernous den.


The farm road bends, and southward the hayfield broadens,
deepens westward. (Thunderstorm, foil hat,
this field.) A matchbook stand of timber flared

in the distance. Above the hayfield, blooms
of cloud with orange tints and reds, like roses
of course. A sickle moon there too,

as though hung up by a reaper. What was more
the evening star, the planet Venus,
within the waxing crescent’s great circle—

which brought to mind the arrival of spring

as Horace describes it. Late fall though now it was
and soon would frost embrittle the sapped-out grasses
and anthills crunch when stepped on—even now

Venus was superintending by moonlight
a circle of Graces and nymphs, their fingers
interlaced, her choreography

sending from their bare feet
tremors across . . . maybe a clearing, a food plot
baited with corn by the hunters.


Thanks to a northerly breeze, we’d catch,
when leaving the gate, a whiff of smoke from the farmhouse,
the parents’ bedroom whose windows,
lately broken, give on the orchard. Meanwhile

the itchy scent of hay from the rust-red barns,
the round bales there beneath the open arches.