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This is a poem I wrote recently in honor of my father, who some 30 years ago trusted me, a 15-year-old girl, to help him with one of the toughest jobs on our small family farm in Arkansas: hauling hay.

Hauling Hay

The summer sun blazed, but farmers think at least two seasons ahead:
winter was on your mind, when the cows follow in steam, bellowing,
looking to you for forage. The boys had already left home, launching themselves
back to Texas from our small farm, to find their own way. Mom and I alone

were left behind to be your helpers; truthfully, though, we weren't much help,
and more often you just worked longer, bending your brown back
to the extra chores. But it was time to bring in hay bales for winter;
strong as you were, you couldn't haul it alone. At fifteen, I was it.

So before sunrise, while it was still cool (but not for long), you drove us
to a local hayfield in your embarrassingly orange Dodge, homemade hay rack
reaching up from the top of the bed, measuring high the work ahead.
Side by side as the sun climbed to the top of the hay rack, then beyond,

we worked and sweated, swinging arms in that ancient rhythm,
bringing in the harvest. I did not know I could be so strong;
I surprised us both, matching you bale for bale. We did not talk,
saving our energy for the endless field before us. Sun and dust,

horseflies and gnats, ice water and sweat, the small relief of sitting
while you drove to the next row. That was our world that day.
We loaded the rack to the top, then climbed into the truck for the trip home.
I think I slept. Too soon, the aching work began in reverse:

to load the hay bales into the barn loft. I almost cried then, but rejected tears
as useless, and settled once more into the work that must be done:
catch, turn, stack, turn to catch again. No thought of work's ending and rest beyond;
only the work itself existed. Staggering home in firefly darkness,

I knew I had visited only for a day the bone-deep work of your life,
and felt pride to have shared it. In the moments before exhaustion won,
I heard you tell Mom, "She worked like a man," and smiled. You meant it well.
And next morning: "I'm proud of you." Into whatever darkness has come,

that day has blazed its light; whenever soul's winter came bellowing hunger,
that day has fed me with its truth: be strong, keep your head down,
keep working, there is more to be done, do it and be done.
The strength that surprised came from you: pride, stubbornness, love.
I have done no finer work than that day hauling hay with you.