PHOTOPOEM: “When Hay Bales Speak to You”


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Text & Photos by Douglas John Imbrogno | feb12.2021


1.

All photos by Douglas John Imbrogno | WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

Let’s talk hay
bales. I have,
perhaps like you,

been spying hay
bales most all
my life. At least a

half-century of hay
bales or more, as
it likely took a half

decade of initial
breath to notice,
and then ponder them.


2.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

Seen, no doubt, off
in the distance. Out
the side window or

wayback of our
pickle-green family
station wagon, driving

somewhere. Likely,
south to north, across
the mostly griddle-flat

Ohio plains. As Bob
says, ‘The country I
come from/ is called

the Midwest.’ If you
hail from there, grew
upright there, eager to

stop for pancakes
— blueberry
& raspberry

syrups! — at Dutch
Pantry, on the way
to visit sundry

grandfolk, uncles,
aunts & cousins up
north, you saw,

for sure, at the
right time of year,
hay bales.


3.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

They squatted, sprinkled
like huge lozenges of
Shredded Wheat

from a box spilled
by giants. Seemed
so neatly arranged,

dropped in
synchronous order,
known only to a

farmer boy or girl, an
insider language taught
by sunburnt fathers,

keying alive a
Rube Goldberg contraption,
which inhaled the hay,

pooped it out, one-two-
three-four-five
like that.
All in a morning’s work.


4.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

Since I was a kid of
the suburbs, I
witnessed hay bales

only from afar,
their Euclidean order
a mysterious algebra,

imposed upon the
tan chessboard of
rectangled fields,

framed by the abstruse
disorder of tangled
woods and hillsides,

disappeared to an
obscure horizon into a
fathomless sea of waves.

I’m far older now,
hard on my way through
a seventh decade of

perusing landscapes.
Yet, in all that time
haven’t met a hay

bale. Up close.
The other day,
I had my chance.


5.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

Had to getoutadodge.
Too much insurrection,
too many smug, alleged

representatives,
repping nothing but
the opposite of

what a grandmother,
with an uncorrupted
immigrant heart,

would dream her
grandchildren, and
their kids, would

come to be.
Honest, decent
brokers. Good

neighbors in the
promised land
she risked an

ocean and her family
fortunes, to attempt.
I know when I

wish to pummel the
self-satisfied, half-smile
off the representative —

male & female! — who
once more pisses down
the country’s leg, I need

to head upriver. And
so, I do. At 60 miles per
hour, window down.


6.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

I make a turn down
a road I’ve pondered
on for months.

Curve past a
storage barn, metal
door half-peeled

back by wind or
restless spirits from
the nearby sprawling

marshlands, where
I usually trek to walk
absent of the

so-called human race.
The road dives
straight a quarter mile.

A million-dollar
mansion hunkers in
a field at right.

An industrial
plant lies to the
left, snow-white

smoke undulates like
flags in air above
exhaust pipes.

For all that, it’s a
placid country scene.
The plant’s mild hum

does not disturb the
pastoral calm. The rich
men and women in their

manse, triple cars in
driveway roundabout,
do not appear to spy me,

secure in their
impressive wealth, as I
cease my car and get out.

For the road concludes
in a cul-de-sac. And
beyond—a hay field.


7.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

Lined up along one
side of the asphalt
sit a dozen or more

hay bales, dressed
lightly in green netting,
stolid and heavy,

orderly and quiet.
A single hay bale rests,
impressive, with gravitas,

at road’s end. I get
out, fire up a
Nicaraguan cigar

and go to it. Sun
rides midway in
the blue, chasing back

what would be
February chill, were it
occluded by rafts

of clouds sailing,
west to east, above this
northwest neck of

West Virginia. I go
and rest my arms
upon the bale.

It’s high as a table
in a bar. I decide not
to check the news again,

but to click some
glamour shots of
hay bales, as I

appear to have taken
a left turn into
their midst.


8.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

I lean my face down
into the compacted hay
and breathe. It smells

of summer, of sweat,
of sun and mown grass.
Of turned dirt and

the ineffable aroma
of rain. Thich Nhat
Hanh, famed Buddhist

poet-monk, will ask
you to ponder a piece
of white paper. Ask:

Do you see the clouds
in this? The rain
that fell upon the tree

that grew in scores
of summers,
to yield the pulp

from which the sheet
is made? The paper —
this is no metaphor —

contains, retains, the
essence of 10,000
moonlit nights.

Or cloudless, cold ones.
Of fog, of morning dew.
It’s all in it. All cohered

to make the single sheet.
Its DNA is clouds, sunlight,
mist and fallen rain.


9.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

So, too, the bale
whose musk I
recommend, does not

infer, but actually
subsumes hundreds of
West Virginia mornings,

days and midnights.
Hay growing. Tickled,
swayed by breezes. By

a wind that may have
swept on to ruffle my
face and hair, or yours.


10.

WestVirginiaVille.com | feb2021

I walk the fields,
cigar burned half its
size, toward the small

barn. I walk inside,
for it’s open to the
world — and what a

joy is this? Its sole
possession are stacks
and rolls of bales—

dozens. And who
would steal away with
those? Though given

history’s long thievery,
I’m sure there are
not a few hay bale

crooks, pick-pocketing
honest farmers, just
looking for a place to

stock the treasure of a
long, hot summer until
they can … what?

Be fed to cows and
horses? Pigs and
whatnot. I’m

ill-educated in the
ways of farms. I
suppose I’ll Internet it

someday. Better
yet, befriend an
honest farmer, who’ll

educate me. If
only in exchange, he
or she will let me

help them bale
the hay. Wrap and
bind it. Arrange it

on the cutting board
of stubbled fields. Then,
to barns. Where I

may lift my nose
or bow it, with no
small reverence, to

inhale so many
sunny-cloudy days and
Appalachian nights.

Greenbottom WV | feb2021


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2 Comments

  • admin

    Yeah, I wondered about the hand hay-baling days. Those go waaaaaaay back! Thanks for the evocative details!

  • Errol Hess

    fifty years ago the bales were rectangular, bound by sisal rope or wire, light enough to lift but heavy enough the binding cut into your hands when hefted onto wagon or loft. My uncle John Fox forked his hay loose onto the wagon then stacked it in the pasture around a tall pole for cows to nibble into till spring grass sprouted.

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