Nobody Knows the Birthplace of Corn

It was a common gold, so Mayans ate it
           and traded the obsidian and jade they gathered under the snout of volcanoes.

The corn god was the flesh-perfect of male beauty.
           We cried over the lightness of breaking forth.
           But some called her Mother.

      My mother grew up among corn. In the photograph, before the others were born,       she stands on cold-firmed hay, her hand barely touching the black and white       collie, smiling at someone outside the shot. Her profile. Coat and matching hat       evidence of someone’s attention. The color is necessarily difficult, real one painted       out. Her other hand is raised for balance, but it makes her look happy; first       thoughts in a language she can’t remember.

Deities had to be appeased. Always stirring up the waters, inhabiting, demolishing the lookout.
           Someone got it down in the Popul Vuh.

Lesson Plan (Myths): “Stories, in the sense that the term here is understood, create a world that could be hardly put together out of actual experience, even though the narrator may insist the story is true.”

Corn travels.
The first peoples said a black crow lobbed it north, a gift of Cautantowwit.

      We moved seventeen times before I was eighteen. Could it have been the corn?

The earliest ears were developed through systematic collection and cultivation.
They were only several inches long with eight rows of kernels. After several thousand years of such attentions, maize became corn.

Here, it gets slippery. Transactions sealed, greed blurs vision, the stamp of atrocity…

      The body can live without corn and a good many other things. Does she eat, my       father asked at the dinner table when I was already fifteen. My mother said, she       runs. We lived five miles from the ruins of the Tsankawi pueblo then. There, you       can find ceremonial underground caves and around the entrances, tiny discarded       cobs.

Corn travels. Rattling around for adventure, goes west with pioneers. Irrigation makes it possible.

      It magnets my ancestors who lost land to the Bolsheviks. My mother’s whole clan       lands in the same Nebraska plot to do the one thing they know how. In summer, I       stared through car windows at the seas of mothers and sisters along the road and       complained there’s nothing here. What I meant was nothing but corn.

FAQ: The main ingredient in 3,500 products and more discovered every day. Grown on every continent except Antarctica. Corn syrup is America’s sweetener, used in everything except diet.

      My father consumed five or six Cherry Cokes per day for years. No alcohol,       nicotine or women. He used to give me ice-cream before bed, and I rarely brushed       my teeth. My mother found out when my teeth began to hollow.

News flash: “The word corn can be traced to an Indo-European word that means ‘small nugget.’ ” Today, nuggets are genetically altered and travel home like prodigal daughters. “Scientists discover super-maize infiltrating the wild strains of Oaxaca.”

      When he tells stories, he often speaks of a childhood desire to farm. Fifth       generation in a line of Nebraska preachers, they moved from town to town, and he       dreamed of rooting down. My mother’s dreams are indecipherable. What she got       was kids and a job in lawn fertilizers. What did she think would come of that first       move away from the cornfields to the city, when she wore matching hats and       gloves,and rented her own room?

In my city, we plant corn in shared gardens—even a few stalks remind us of home. Our corn grows tall and fast, alien-like, even in bad soil, fires smoldering all around, resilient, looking for love.

Kate Martin Rowe’s poems have appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal, California Quarterly, Eclipse and the online journals Chaparral and Prick of the Spindle among others. She teaches composition at LA City College and Glendale Community College and lives in Eagle Rock with her husband and two very lazy cats.