Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Corn 3

Part 3 of the corn series was inspired by the statue outside of Bates Hall at Wellesley College, my freshman dorm. My memory had radically oversimplified it as a solid, upright ear of corn. Bates Hall was named for Katherine Lee Bates, Wellesley professor, best known as writer of the words to "America the Beautiful."

In the spirit of poetic research, I took a drive to Wellesley and sought out the statue, discovering it was called Persephone and was made by John Rood in 1952, the year i was born. In fact it is slightly cob shaped, but hollowed out, its inscape being the form of a woman. It's covered not with monotonous kernals, but with a freize of animals, flowers and fruits.

The mythic Persephone/Demeter connection delighted me, of course, as did the fact of Professor Bates' "Boston Marriage" to Katherine Coman; Yellow Clover is the title of a collection of poignant love poems Bates wrote after her dear partner died of breast cancer.

The poem embellishes on the themes of sexuality and hunger begun in the first two sections.

iii. Persephone, John Rood, 1952

So it began,
This vagabond, unvalued yellow clover,
To be our tenderest language.
Katherine Lee Bates, “The Yellow Clover”

In memory, a concrete ear of corn,
solid and blunt as Balthus’ The Kiss,
had supplanted John Rood’s Persephone
outside Bates Hall, my old Freshman dorm.

In fact, Rood’s sculpture is an ovate bud
that tapers skyward from a broad calyx,
a gynoid archway cut in each of its four faces,
and defines a hollow which is the absent daughter

in typical hourglass, but more hip than breast,
with a head like a pip or a teat -- overall,
more Priapus than Willendorf, each buttress
sprouting a low relief straight from Katherine Lee’s

amber grain waves and fruit plains. Days’-eyes,
wheat ears, clover, corms and leaves bed
a squirrel, a mulish hare and two birds, not
my memory’s cobblestone tracts of kernals,

but a regular Byzantium of fertility,
burgeoning from limestone. I was that hole.
Someday, they crooned, my Dis would come,
spurting his spiked grenadine. So I battened.

Bread, butter, jam, rags, words -- I stuffed my chinks
until I swelled, a purple apoplectic majesty,
and my skin split. Wait. I’d show that hole.
I’d become what nature most abhors,

a paragon of emptiness, an underworld
where corn can only freeze or salt the tongue,
where the corn mother burns in effigy
for the witchy corn she pillrolls from her flesh,

where the corn maiden retreats across a ground
of neither brimstone nor springtime,
toward nothing she can ever know.
Now, an aging Birkenstocked alum,

I have returned to fact-check for a poem
about the hole occulted in the flesh
about the hole inside a swarm of words,
about a heroine, a revenant,

who climbs Bates’ hill, looks furtively around,
slips into Rood’s hollow, a perfect fit,
incants the lost close sesame and waits
for ranks of seed to ratchet into place.

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