Into the Corn

In summer we were warned not to enter it
If the tassels were head-high or higher
Lest we get lost like the boy who went in
After a ball called foul and never came out
Whose parents must have been decades dead
But who himself had not aged a day
Who runs bases wherever farm boys say
Ghost man oh ghost man we need you!
Out of longing to enter it we reached in
The leaves slicing our arms like the knife
My mother used to slash the risen dough
Wrenching the ears off the stalks
Like twisting doorknobs in the dark
We held them to our own ears grinning
Before turning serious and regretful
For though them we had heard the boy laughing
And as we brusquely shucked the husks
Like village grandmothers sitting in doorways
Down to the slick light green inner leaves
We longed for the moist dark that seemed to be
One of the privileges of being born as corn
But not knowing this longing was common
We held the silk under our bare armpits instead
And laughed at the long joke of adolescence
We were soon to be the punch lines of
While really recalling the pubic hair
Of women we’d seen in porn magazines
We found in the trash in the roadside ditch
When the kernels hybridized for cattle
Were exposed in their wavy pews
We gnawed them like they were sweet
Corn picked up at the roadside stand for supper
Boiled in sugar-water buttered and salted
To be spun on the lathes of our hands
And when we’d bitten off more than we could chew
We snapped the cops clean in half
So as to see the marrow and believe
We had gone at least as deep into the corn
As that boy who’d disappeared had

Austen Smith

Austen Smith

Austin Smith grew up on a family dairy farm in northwestern Illinois. He is the author of two poetry collections, Almanac and Flyover Country (both published through the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets). His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Harper’s, Ploughshares, and many other publications. He teaches at Stanford but currently lives in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Jo Daviess, County in northwestern Illinois, where he writes and gardens.
Austen Smith

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Author: Austen Smith

Austin Smith grew up on a family dairy farm in northwestern Illinois. He is the author of two poetry collections, Almanac and Flyover Country (both published through the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets). His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Harper’s, Ploughshares, and many other publications. He teaches at Stanford but currently lives in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Jo Daviess, County in northwestern Illinois, where he writes and gardens.