Not the sudden-struck idyll of Millet’s Gleaners
nor a Hudson River romantic, those stolid
figures bent to autumnal light in fields forever
framed in un-blighted harvests, biblical measures
of crop and burden—but a flesh-and-blood life.
Mapped by stone walls blurred in transient
storms or heat-wave, the farmer a veil of sweat,
adjusting the feeder forks of a hay baler,
alone in his mowed pasture on a damp day.
A man beset by weary machines, he will rise
like crooked timber to fetch garage tools, as underfoot,
narrow hillocks of freshly shorn hay run green,
like traces blown grit will leave on a windowpane.
Foraging deer move nightly at the edge of his fields,
wary vanguards on uncertain ground.
He thinks of his rifle. He’ll recall stretches
of days like this, summer unwound in clammy hours
that stick to his skin, the tractor’s dashboard fan
only the sick-warm breath of some dying beast.
For him, all things carried by harvest wind sustain:
ripe wheat and barley—even diesel smoke and grain
dust which clot the air, the sweet musk of brush-pile
bonfires in the unreserved flames he receives
with a drawn-out gaze, like someone long expected.
Jeffrey Alfier won the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection, Idyll for a Vanishing River. He is also author of The Wolf Yearling, The Storm Petrel, and The Red Stag at Carrbridge (forthcoming). His work has appeared recently in Southern Poetry Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Louisiana Review.