In the depths of interminable winter, there was no sound. No words schussed across the silence, no song delighted the heart. No voice, mysterious and enthralling, beckoned willing and wary alike into the heart of the fields. Winter crackled with stubble and ice, purified herself with snow, hid away her fields. Dark and loamy, smelling of glaciers and frost, the earth remained empty as a night without stars until the season turned and the earth warmed, and voices returned to the land.
“Here? Is this where it goes?” “Yes, child. That’s where it goes, the seed that will become the corn. Remember the rhyme?”
“In rows long and lovely, in rows long and straight,
in rows that reach out from the house to the gate…”
He wasn’t someone who flattered you with his answer, someone you felt reached out to pull down a word here and a word there like plucking cherries, throwing them into the bucket of your mind just to make you happy. His answers seemed good and wise and true, born of knowledge older than the corn.
Together they planted, together they sowed. While great, green machinery growled its way across the larger fields, they knelt beside the small, tucking their kernels into the moist, fragrant earth. “When will it start to grow?” “This very night, child, while the stars are shining and the raccoons dance. Then it will start to grow.” “Will we see it tomorrow.” “No, not tomorrow, and not the day after. But one day we’ll hear its call and we’ll come down and see it, growing and green. Be patient. The corn will tell us when to come.”
Days passed with no word from the corn. The child grew impatient, as children will, distracting herself with kittens and haymows until the morning the Corn Whisperer walked into the kitchen, poured himself a late cup of coffee and announced, “Corn’s up.” Sprinting to the seedlings, the child ruffled their tender green with her fingers, turning to ask the man, “How’d you know?” “The corn told me,” he said. “I listened to the corn.”
When the first hail came, bending the two-foot-tall plants nearly to the ground, the man disappeared into the field. In a day’s time the corn was standing again, straight and true. Thinking to make a joke, his neighbor asked, “Did you threaten it?” “Of course not,” said the Whisperer. “I encouraged it.”
Thus encouraged, the good corn grew. Knee-high by the Fourth of July, higher than the eye of a small elephant soon after, it burgeoned into a perfect forest of corn. While its glossy leaves and golden tassles waved to the passing clouds, passing children ran the rows, hiding and seeking and pausing now and then to look up into the vault of blue that seemed their only escape from the interminable green of the corn.
In the blazing heat of one summer’s afternoon, the man took the child into the shade of the field. “Not everyone knows this,” he said, “and of those who have been told, not everyone believes. But sit here now, and listen. Listen beyond the wind and the birds, listen beyond your fear of the field, listen even beyond the chatter of your own imagination. You’ll hear the sound of the corn.”
And the child sat, and the child listened, and she discovered his words to be true. The creak of growing leaves, the stretching of the stalks upward toward the light, even the faint murmur of green insinuating itself into the light was unmistakable. “Those are corn whispers,” the man said. “When you no longer hear that voice, you’ll know the season of growing has ended, and the time for ripening has come.”
Later that autumn, when the season of growing had ended and hope hung heavy over the land like low-hanging ears, ripened and full and waiting for harvest, the man walked the rows with the child. Caught suddenly between the syncopated clack of drying stalks and the sweet trill of blackbirds singing one to another, the Corn Whisperer stopped. “Is it the corn?” the child asked. “Is it talking to you?” Cocking his head, the man squinted against the light, bemused and listening. “No” he said, “this voice is different. Can you hear it?” Mimicking his intentness, the child tilted her head. “I do!” she said. “I hear the voice, but I don’t see anyone. Can we find it?”
Peering down the rows into the darkening field, the man considered. “It might be anywhere, that voice. It could be this way, or that. It could stand in front of us or lurk behind. It could be here, or it could be there.” “Let’s go find it,” said the child. “If we’re lucky, we can catch it. And if we get lost, we’ll ask the corn, and the corn will take us home.”
Touched by her confidence, the Corn Whisperer smiled. “Yes, we can do that,” he said. Taking her hand, he measured his steps to hers as they began the journey, listening together for the mysterious voice, marching straight as grain toward the edge of the world, steady in rhythm as a blackbird’s trill, their hearts ripened and full, ready for reaping, with the old poet’s promise-song floating about them on the sweet and singing wind.
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”