First comes the sacred dirt.
If only everyone had the dirt they need!
If you got dirt, give thanks.
Next comes the seed, also sacred.
Heads almost clunk over the pictures in the catalogs.
Painted Mountain, Black Aztec,
Mandan Bride, Nothstine Dent,
Seneca Red Stalker, Longfellow Flint...
How to choose?
Then comes the sweat.
Planting seems like it should be easy,
But actually it’s the hardest part.
Dig, dig, dig,
Rake, rake, rake,
Hoe, hoe, hoe.
Stoop a hundred times,
Or kneel, getting your knees caked with mud,
Or crawl along the rows.
When you see an old-fashioned corn planter,
You know those old-timers were smart.
Children lose interest long before it’s done.
Well, supper’s gonna be simple tonight, that’s for sure.
Leaves in view! O! The joy!
Now the corn is tall enough to hide in.
As you go past dragging a hose,
Pretend you don’t hear those little giggles
And let the children jump out and surprise you.
Then crawl in after them,
Into a secret green jungle.
Sure, there’s compaction.
But hey, the plants can use the extra carbon dioxide.
In case of a windstorm,
A web of clothesline tied to a pitchfork
Firmly pushed into the dirt
Will save the lives of these tall brothers and sisters.
Then the rustles change from green to pale tan.
Now comes the very best part:
It’s the sound children make
When they snap off a first ear
And peel back the wrapping in a strip
And expose a row of shining many-colored teeth:
Returning with a wheelbarrow
Loaded, filled, heaped with ears,
While the children dance alongside,
Is a moment for trumpets.
Time to unwrap the presents!
The husks squeak as they are pulled back,
And the naked ears roll noisily around on the kitchen table.
And of course the silk must be made into wigs.
What a mess!
And the colors!
Wow, corn kernels can be pink,
Or lavender, or aqua, or jade,
Or lemon striped with orange,
Or midnight blue, or saturated red,
Or gamboge, or deepest aubergine.
Running our hands along the rows,
Our fingertips hear music,
Perhaps harpsichord and an oboe.
Sitting in a cornstalk tipi,
You can feel the conical wisdom, snug around you,
Just like they felt it long ago,
Ancestors upon ancestors.
Then the ears dry.
The kernels shrink and lose their shine.
And here’s something children like to do:
Rub two ears together and pop the kernels off.
What a racket!
No matter how big your dishpan,
Kernels will escape in all directions.
Days later, they are still getting found
Behind the cookbooks or under the toaster.
You might recall that legend
About the person that Corn and Bean blessed
Because he kept stopping in the trail
To pick up every little seed
That fell out of people’s baskets.
It might be nice to keep the empty cobs handy
In case you suddenly have to groom a horse,
Or smoke some meat,
Or build a toy cabin.
Now to grind them into meal.
Some people buy mills,
Or you can use your blender.
Down by the Big River
There are some holes in the rocks
Where the Old Ones came to pound their stuff,
Holes that are centuries deep.
Now, finally, the cooking.
It’s very simple in the end:
Three cups water and one cup cornmeal;
Simmer gently with some honey and a bit of salt.
All winter, this meal will make sunshine inside you.
Welcome to the circle of life!
...if only everyone could have dirt.