no place in the corn
where you’re not touched
Endlessly evocative, Burnell Lippy’s “late summer / no place in the corn
/ where you’re not touched” should be read first and foremost as an
intensely physical declaration of fact from someone who knows exactly
what he is talking about. “Late summer” is not a separate image but an
essential part of the statement, which would be untrue at a different
time of year. Adding “In” at the beginning, “there is” after
“summer,” and a final period would transpose the elliptical expression
into a standard prose sentence. In that form, too, the information is
demonstrably accurate and richly compressed. The more forceful three-line
form, however, emphasizes Lippy’s poetic impulse and intent. It slows
things down just enough for the reader to step in.
The period of incredibly rapid growth has passed, and the corn is as tall
as it will ever be, seven maybe eight feet high, certainly well above a
person’s head. Banner-like leaves curve upward from the stalks then
droop, taking up most of the room between rows. Earth, corn, and heat
meld to produce heavy smells and ever-changing sounds unique to the
season and the crop. Greens dominate, accented by browns and yellows and
glimpses of sky. The plants move with their own weight and there is
absolutely no place within the cornfield where a human being would not
be brushed by leaves or leaning stalks — itchy, scratched, nicked — and
utterly surrounded by the ancient, amazing crop. A person could get lost
there, or feel he has been found and claimed.
The indefinite “you” can be tricky, but here I think it sets just the
right tone, more inclusive than “I,” much more natural and
conversational than “one.” The usage catches a wrung-from-the-poet
epiphany and establishes the universal quality of the insight. As a
reader or listener becomes thoroughly involved, the sense of the second
person pronoun may even shift from indefinite to specific, increasing the
intimacy of shared experience.
Beyond paraphrase and beyond metaphor, the poem affects me emotionally as
well as physically. Alive to the present moment, I am touched by the
cycle of seasons and connections with people of many cultures and times.
I know that corn has been cultivated for centuries, changed, developed,
and spread around the world to become an economic giant and an essential
source of food for humans and livestock. I am touched by feelings of
responsibility as well as gratitude and abundance. Fertility, growth,
change, ripeness all brush my consciousness.
Immersed in Burnell Lippy’s splendid haiku, I respond to the tactile
sensations of a cornfield in late summer and find myself insistently
touched by the mystery of life.