Have Twelve Words for Milpa: Cornfield
Che-col: Bush cut but not yet burned. Col: A first-year milpa. A field
from which trees have been cut with blows of an axe. Sakab-chacben:
A second-year milpa. Cornstalks cut. Sakab col:
A third-year milpa.
Cornstalk milpa. Xlab sakab: An old abandoned milpa
in which stalks
can still be seen. Another sakab. Sakab hubche:
When the bush is
about a meter high and one can barely see the stalks. Cornstalks mixed
with shorts of trees. Xlabhubche: Short bush having
had no milpa for
two or more years. Old sprouts of trees. Hubche:
Bush 2 to 3 meters
high. Dzop-che hubche: Bush 3.5 to 4.5 meters high, trees
5 to 7
centimeters in diameter. Vigorous young forest. Tan celen hubche: Bush
which is 10 or 12 years old and again ready for milpa. It may also be
years old. Noh Kax: High bush. Evidence, however, of
burning, either on stone or on old stumps. Nucuch Kax: Bush which has
never been burned. Forest of thick trees or big forest.
Gangly stalks of husky coughs
rattle and kvetch. 100 acres,
Zea mays, apex tassel a male
stripper's tease to female cob.
The barely meant, the zipless
fuck of reproduction: florets
spikelets, haphazard pollen.
Muluc's sickle itches for revenge
against the drought—
to cut a swath, to cut his throat.
Each sheath a cerecloth
for suppose, a withered almost.
Each narrow leaf opposed
before word one is spoken. Caryopsis:
kernel, dry fruit with single seed:
a meager coin fused to a miser’s
purse. Germ and endosperm. One
to eat the other. Autotrophic.
Determinate. This crop,
a show of smiles like baring teeth.
These two poems are excerpts from my novel-in-verse,
Muluc: How a Minor Maya God, Reborn as the Son of a Mexican Tenant Farmer
in Iowa, Leaves Home, Falls in Love and Accidentally Saves the World.
This poem began
by playing with the musical sounds of scientific and colloquial terms
for corn. The angry tone took over when Muluc, a struggling farmer, entered
the poem. I am interested in different ways of knowing: the disjunction
between strong emotion and direct experience versus remote scientific
terms of description.
on The Maya Have 12 Words for Milpa: Cornfield:
I am interested
in the gaps between meaning and language, shifts in vocabulary of different
languages over time, and which words are central to a culture. I based
this poem upon the anthropologist Morris Steggerda's dictionary of farming
terms in a contemporary Yucatec village, Piste, located near the ancient
Maya capital Chichen Itza.