The Academy of Hay

by Julia Shipley

The farmer squats in the dirt road beside the tractor. Using a twig he draws a way to enter the field. For the next two hours I’ll drive twenty-five miles, mowing circles within circles. On the pond I’d watch ripples erupt and vanish, thinking: fish postulants. Sister Bernard Mary once told me, a journey that begins with him leads to him. It’s true of the rye grass with its three miles of root hairs per day; 6,603 miles per season, traveling all that way, and going nowhere. We used to make fun of something called the “corn joint,” the lignin keeping the stalk upright, stationed despite wind. The farmer, stoic mostly, suddenly spoke,

Could you stand in a field for three months?

Ah, but our potato fork did. It remained through the winter, an effigy for where we did stand and bend, and drive around with the cultivator all those months, sowing then harvesting. Yeatsian, a tattered coat upon a stick, he grows more like his scarecrow, hair amuck, grease on his pants’ hip when he’s pined to his tractor, haying. That tilted fork still stuck in February, buried to the grip, represents everything: his investment, and my investment, our stubborn stab in this endeavor, our vulnerability to the elements, well, I’ll speak for me, what ever comes or falls or fails, I’ll feel.

Julia Shipley is the author of two chapbooks, Herd (Sheltering Pines Press, 2010) and Planet Jr. (Flyway/Iowa State, 2012). Her work has appeared in CutBank, FIELD, Fourth Genre, Hunger Mountain, and Whole Terrain. She works as a journalist, farmer and caretaker of a Writer’s Retreat in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Her newest collection, Bales of Prose is forthcoming from Plowboy Press in autumn 2013.

Compression Statement:

    “I think hay itself is an amazing embodiment of compression: all the summer days and nights and weather gone into the field’s sward and then cut and baled into a hunk—there, you’re holding a whole season (plus a cricket or two, and maybe a snake skin and…) in your arms in a hay bale.”
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