Weeding wheatfields by hand

24 March 2011 § 6 Comments


Fickle Summer picked up her skirts
And took a short, unscheduled break,
Lending the farm to Autumn
Who, having no truck with harvesting,
Drove us from the fields
With a thin and ruinous drizzle.
Other times
A snapped belt, sheared bolt or burst hydraulic hose
Deep in the combine’s vitals
Would leave the big machine
Bellied like a bog-bound mammoth,
Spilling its guts in gouts of oil
Across the gasping stubble.
As such times
We lads, not seeking or permitted
To wait out the delay with idle hands
Would fill the old blue van with plastic sacks
Then bundle in ourselves
And rattle to some distant field
To hunt out rogues: the wild oats
Whose tasselled heads rose, mockingly,
Above the standing crop.
We’d deploy along the headland, sacks in hand,
And take a tramline each, walking steady
Like policemen on a forensic sweep,
Stopping to pull the rogues up, roots and all
And bag them for the bonfire. To relieve
The tedium, we’d tell the green boys, out from town,
Them ol’ rogues’ll hear you comin’, see,
And bein’ woild, they’ll duck down quick
And ‘ide till you’ve gone boi,
Then pop’en up again, so moind you watch ‘em.
We learned to curse those wily weeds
And the gaunt, grey man who sent us there:
Four-pound-fifty seemed so little
For an hour that felt so long,
And all the while we knew
The rogues would not be vanquished
And we’d be back to pull more out next year.
A hopeless task, but honest, and somehow
No crazier than the work I’m doing now.

Rogue n a plant that falls short of a standard, or is of a different type from the rest of the crop; vt to eliminate rogues or inferior plants from (a crop, etc)

Roguing is the traditional way of keeping the harvest help occupied when inclement weather or the inevitable mechanical catastrophes bring the main activity to a halt. I know weeding a fifty-acre wheatfield by hand sounds daft, but compared to some of the so-called ‘proper’ jobs I’ve been given since my far-off student days, it  seems like a sensible use of time.

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§ 6 Responses to Weeding wheatfields by hand

  • belfastdavid says:

    You leave me Nick wandering off into memory of “so-called proper jobs” and wondering too why I thought them so important at the time!!

    The happiest I ever was in my working life was late on when I worked as a psychiatric nurse on an acute psychiatric ward. Even then there was a lot of time wasted fighting “the system” in order to help people get better! DUH!!

    • gonecycling says:

      I work in marketing/advertising these days, which is about as trivial as it gets. Seeing how worked-up people get about utterly unimportant things is one of the main reasons I haven’t had a full-time job for 12 years! At least freelancing gives me a bit of distance, helps me keep things in perspective, keeps me out of internal politics, and allows me to put my time and effort into things that really matter like poetry, music, dog-walking..! Glad you liked the poem.

  • John Stevens says:

    Hurray – another poem about tractors and combines!! It makes a very interesting read, Nick – and I like the twist in the tail to.

    • gonecycling says:

      Hi John – many thanks for your comment. I don’t know what made me think of this subject, really – after all, it’s over 20 years since I last went a-roguing – but I’m glad you liked the poem. I’m sure there’ll be more like it now that summer’s coming; you have been warned!

  • Brendan says:

    Loved this one! Reminds me of Heaney’s “Glanmore Sonnets,” the rich association of poetry and field-work. I wonder if all that work hauling up wild oaks mentored you essentially in the craft of editing: pulling out what doesn’t belong even though it hurts. Great work — Brendan

    • gonecycling says:

      Thank you Brendan – I think you may be right; even now, I get a lot of satisfaction from ‘cleaning up’ copy, weeding out redundancy, cliche and abstraction (even if I sometimes have no choice but to leave a lot of the idiocy in!) And to be compared to Heaney on any level is a wonderful compliment.

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