SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH THE CORNFIELDS: new poems Skylight Press, London, 2011

, by Margaret Randall

Vallejo’s Man Passes with a Loaf of Bread

Menacing courtroom scent
of polished wood
invades my skin
when I revisit
that no-man’s land
and all its questions.
 
Stench of Bismuna’s battlefield
floats faint
on trickster wind.
Where I wandered
and with whom
one ferocious November day,
shame of a slap I cannot take back.
 
More distant yet, mist rises
from orchid-lined ravines
on the road to Cuetzálan,
Totonacan women sit in silence,
green and purple yarn
woven into their hair.
 
Mexico 1968, blood-red paint
obscured the breasts
of white doves
stenciled on ancient stone.
Or concrete exoskeletons
gaping like sliced egg crates
a decade before
on New York’s Lower East Side.
 
I cannot forget the feeling of freedom
as I drew my first paintbrush
across a page of paper,
first photograph true to my eye,
first poem I wanted to claim
as mine.
 
Surroundings blur, dates contract,
expand or hover
in places I can no longer access
without an image,
name, date.
 
The body of every man
I have touched
breathes through my storyline
although my love—a woman—
walks beside me,
committed
as long as we both shall live.
 
Four times I yearned and stretched
to welcome children
who now have children
of their own.
Four screams, four times
the joy of continuity.
 
Moving across my own map
I drag imprints of memory
with me as I go,
walk, run, stop
only to disentangle
what is caught
on the barbs of wire fences.
 
Vallejo’s man passes with a loaf
of bread on his shoulder.
A million comrades sound
the rhythm of a single drum
in Revolution Square.
 
Old fears struggle to hold their own,
memory slips through fingers
and savorings
once salty or sweet
come up pumpkin custard
one day,
street-corner mazorcas the next.
 
The life I travel threatens
to leave me behind,
confusing a first visit
to Vietnam
with Peru’s ancient kingdoms
reasserting themselves
through jungle green.
 
Moving through my time
I walk, run,
stand still and wait,
dragging the puzzle pieces
with me as I go.

Something’s Wrong with the Cornfields

Something’s wrong with the cornfields.
In Utah’s wide valleys
between red rock walls
wind works
to stir a brush-cut of tassels.
Nothing moves.
 
Defiant, their strange offering
recalls molded plastic,
each spear exact height
of the next.
Dense thicket of green plants,
identical.
 
Winds unable to bend a stalk
carry altered seed and pollen.
Chemicals vanquish borer larvae,
inhabit milk of corn-fed cows,
poison those who drink,
erase the butterflies.
 
We witness the terror
of genetic engineering
seeds ripped from history
splitting threads of continuity.
Earth Mother’s hands
tied behind her back.
 
Memories of the family milpa,
childhood images of Kansas,
India’s suiciding farmers.
A threat to generations
teaching us to fear
designer sustenance.
 
I dream a stash of ancient cobs
chewed clean by teeth
and grit of sand
eight hundred years ago.
Escalante’s shallow stone basin
calls me home.