kernels




I tell people about cornfields 

when they ask about Missouri.

I like to give people what they want.

I give them what they expect:

corn stalks, breaking sky.

 

But in Missouri corn stopped breaking sky

a long, long time ago.

 

When I was a little girl the corn stalks

changed from season to season,

growing tighter,

springing those extra ears,

--the bloody ones Van Gogh threw away

and smeared to paint his self portraits --

getting shorter and neater.

 

I tell people I lived 5 minutes from Monsanto.

That evil doesn't taste so bad up close.

That even, it looks like gold.

That Missouri is this interesting place

where things like corn and Monsanto happen.

 

I live in cities with big names now

full of boys like me whose haircuts change

from season to season like corn stalks. 

We all live 5 minutes from barber shops.

 

I tell people I go through boys 

from season to season

that New York is this interesting place

where my dreams are going to come true.

 

When New York people ask about Missouri

my mouth clenches up

and I keep talking about corn

like I'm chewing on it,

start laughing about coming from a place

where not a whole lot happens.

 

Isn't it funny: 

this is why I moved to cities with big names.

To feel full.

 

In the middle of the show-me state

you can drive route 66 for hours

catch nothing but mutant corn

then finally a ghost town

with nuclear waste tucked underneath--

like a gravestone

but a whole town.

The power plant melted down

some decades ago

and they just folded it like corn stalks.

 

I haven't figured out

where my electricity in New York comes from.

But I sure do keep the lights on

at strange hours.

 

It feels harder in my mouth

to make words for emptiness than for corn,

tell people 12 years I spent in a place

not a whole lot happened,

that there was this state I lived in

covered in strip malls and cash crops,

that doesn't make the news

until something violent happens

like Lewis and Clark

or the slave compromise

or a rape case

or Monsanto.

 

I tell people in the Midwest

we had beautiful leaves,

that stayed around for a week and a half

and wild tornadoes

that were always a couple towns over

and the pope came in 1996. 

 

Missouri is  right next to the only fault

that's in the middle of the country,

once made the Mississippi run backwards.

A couple times it woke me up

like that jolt that happens

between a dream and falling.

 

It's hard to explain what makes New York

feel a different kind of empty

than the dead nuclear towns on route 66.

Less like spent waste 

and more like fresh and lonely atoms.

People ask me if I could fall in love here.

 

In Missouri, love and I never talked.

In New York, we had a falling out.

Walking is a particular,

controlled way of falling.

In New York I walk all over

to avoid spending dead hours underground,

on the train.

 

Walking in New York becomes

about carrying absence,

about the spaces that 

make the outlines of my fingers and toes.

Like I don't remember her arms or his warmth

but I remember the cold air after they left.

And I don't know what stories I told but

I can feel the ringing in my ears.

And I spent several minutes 

not sending her that text.

 

In New York we are too busy for each other,

and sometimes too afraid

to admit that we are not.

 

I never said any fussy good byes

to Missouri,

just waved and printed my boarding pass.

The toner ran dry that day so I printed it in red

but it still scanned all right.

I don't think that state will remember me;

we're trying to forget about each other

which is easy because we were never in love.

It was just mutually tolerant.

 

The language I have for love now

is complex and political

but it still doesn't have words

for something that is boring

but heavy

and difficult.

Like the time I spend lying in bed

even when the bright lights and eyes

tell me to wake the fuck up.

 

Somewhere between ordering

expensive coffee in small town Indiana

and expensive coffee in Chelsea

I hypothesize that

there's a roughly equivalent proportion

of good and shitty things

around the country

and in New York all of it

is packed real tight

like mutant corn,

instead of being stretched across a long highway yawn.

That the empty is approximately equal,

that zero is equal to zero,

that here it feels like acupuncture in my eyes for days

and in Missouri it stretches over my whole body,

for 12 years.