August & Grain


The fields were sudden bare

– John Clare



Across the field,

a half-mile or more away – across
a dry liquid rustle of oats – a combine moves …

slow as a clock. Its smoke-&
-dust plume flags its position as it


the first swath close
to the headland’s hedge – as it

to turn

the dun shimmer of ripe

crop to dropped
rows of mangled gold.

The combine is focused. Relentless.

Its work is our food – is feeding
on bits of a year’s patience. Its moves

are measured

in acres or hectares, depending
on your generation, and tonnes
or hundred-weights are terms

of its success. At this distance

– from across the vast field of
sheer cereal – we see

its cab is an intensely fixed gaze
itsiwith no man in it –fixeea Cyclops’ glass eye

that every now & every a
itsigain glints –&ionly sees
itsi with no man in it –fixeea Cyclopsthe reflection

it’ll show us when we’re close


a revolving mouth & corn augured in. ( For an auger is

a helical bit used
to convey material
or force it through

an aperture. )

The combine’s followed

by a completely obedient companion:
the tractor that hauls trailer-fulls of living weight the combine


off Earth. At this


– from across the vast field of ground that holds all the time

of grass’s evolving –

the slow

eating is silent, there’s only

the oats’ desiccated giggle of August, and a skylark’s
sonorous tumbling. The combine

is a world away. Across an ocean. But soon

the combine’s hum and
rumbling will

be audible, its work will
smell of diesel, it will


machinery’s hot stink, thick black drips
will glisten on stubble. The combine’s

noise builds

– as its distance
from us recedes – it brings

a ground-vibrating thrust of dust. Hiss mixed with thunder
– millionsvibrofing toldust ohoof-plodss micross,

all at once, a continent of enclosures, with the wind

’s ghosts …

Suddenly harvest is fast. And the vast field is
receding beneath blades

of fading-away

grasses. The combine

is here


with us in
this corner of

the field



we can see


the machine’s


-reflections into

an air

-conditioned cab.



(First draft: circa 1999/2000)

Cover image: Dominique Cameron, Field Margin, charcoal on panel, 2020

This is part of FIELDS, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring fields as natural and (agri)cultural, invisible and visible, poor and productive, created and creators. FIELDS is conceived and edited by Marloe Mens.


The Learned Pig


Mark Goodwin

Mark Goodwin is a poet-sound-artist, and speaks and writes in various ways. He is also a balancer, walker, climber, and stroller. Mark has been making poetry for over three decades, and has published six full-length books and seven chapbooks with various poetry houses, including Longbarrow Press & Leafe Press. His next book – At – is forthcoming from Shearsman, this year. Mark was brought up on a farm in South Leicestershire, and now lives on a narrowboat just north of Leicester.