My first summer in the corn,
Greg Schneider crushed his leg in a combine at a farm down the road.
When I couldn’t eat dinner that night,
My mother told me about when she was a teenager,
When all three Richardson boys went missing,
Then turned up buried under fifty tons of seed in their neighbor’s grain silo.
The elevator had collapsed, filling the trapped boys’ lungs with dust from dried husks.

We learned about electricity when we worked in the corn.
When one girl from my school stepped into a puddle near a lateral irrigator,
Her whole body quivered and shook.
Her little brother, without thinking, grabbed her hand to pull her away.
That day, they sent us home from work early.

We learned about sex in the corn. Kind of.
Everyone knew a girl who had had to get married instead of going to college.
Everyone knew a boy who never should have had the opportunity to breed.
For a while, I wouldn’t even touch myself.

I was afraid of my thoughts and what they could mean.
Even pulling tassels reminded me of sex,
And I’d punish myself by running my hands through the corn,
Letting the leaves slice the skin on my fingers.

I’d ball my hand into a fist,
Making blood ooze through my fingers and mingle with mud.
No one thought this was strange.
We’d ride on a flatbed trailer,
All of us reaching into the corn,
Cutting our fingers, pulling the tassels from the stalks,
Losing hair and flesh, preparing for the harvest. It was normal.