Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Corn Mask

It hangs on a white wall, its face
a deft weave of corn husks.
I stand close to it, face to face,
and, even so, I can’t quite look
eye to eye with it,
its deep-set vision
set at a tilt that reminds me
of the springtime tilt of the earth’s own axis
and large spirit.

The nose is a small blunt cob. No ears.
Hair, a rustle of corn shucks
where the maker of the mask tied off
the weave. Mouth, a tubular
pucker—a wind hole for howl or owl call
or shamanic cry.

And because I have always wanted
to be a footpath for spirits,
I take it down from the wall
and slide my fingers along the weave
of its skin, then put my face
into its face—
the moment smells of husk
and dust. It smells of smoke.

What kind of smoke are you? I ask.
Not long ago,
in Paradise, California,
the fires burned so hot,
they cremated what once had flesh,
and hair, bone and tooth and claw.
And the world is still burning.
The world is burning
and can’t smell its own smoke.

But as I breathe in the smoke and the silence,
it speaks, the mask speaks
in a vernacular of silence.
No, I reply,
I don’t want to live in the past
or in a dream of a future Earth that somehow
survives us.

I put on this mask of husks and dust
because I want to live
in accordance with laws
that once linked the body of corn
to the earth and to the sky,
laws that once guided rainstorms,
migrations, and seasons.

I want to be in touch with
laws that govern
electrons, wetlands, mitochondria,
and geothermal fields;
with the laws that may still guide
sperm whales on their journeys
through the seas,
their underwater trumpet calls
the loudest on the planet.

I want to respond to this life
with the sanity
that times the arrival of bees
with the breakout of blossoms,
with the precision
and chemistry
that makes an oak tree root-sensitive
to the welfare
of neighboring oaks.

I want to live in the spirit of strict
a form of generosity
that allows for an earthbound humanity.

Spirit of the corn mask, stay close,
stay close.

Let me learn, if it’s not too late,
how to be a creature of the earth,
in love with the life
of the earth,
as if it were my own.  

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