How many kernels on a small ear of corn? How many silks? One for each kernel? It doesn’t seem possible. One of my teachers who came both to Utah and Minnesota in the 1990s at the end of workshops gave each of us who were his students then, two or three kernels of dried corn. And people who know him will want to shout out his name, but I think that I am honoring him by not doing that right now. I know who he is. He knows who he is. If you are lucky, in times past or times to come, you knew him or will know him and will remember far more than his name. If you do not know who I am talking about pick the right time and place to ask the old-timers at the Minnesota Men’s Conference. You should be prepared for a long story. You will hear one if you ask and listen in a good way and a good place.
This rap is not about shout-outs. It is not about a trophy room filled with the taxidermy of teachers’ heads shot on safari. This rap is about what my teacher said. How long it took me to get it. How it changed my life. How it inspires me now and brings little tears to my eyes. He said, “Stop crying for milk and become the breast.” He said, “Plant your heart. Don’t eat it.”
It took me a long time to understand what he meant. Even when I thought I understood, I hadn’t begun to understand. The corn seeds were not conference souvenirs or fetishes to put on an altar or in a trophy case. Corn seeds planted at the right time by human hands in earth prepared and set aside for their gestation manifest through the workings of the divine as corn plants. If neglected they will not thrive. If not protected animals, bugs, and snails will consume the plants. It is sunny but very dry where I live. The soil is alkali and sandy. For seeds to become sprouts they must be nurtured and shaded.
How much care would it take to produce a bushel of corn from three seeds?
How long? The first year−which was three years of study after being handed three seeds−my plants produced a little blue twin and a little white twin who came to the Minnesota Men’s conference in September. The second year, the wind blew my plants over. The third year my backyard soil was depleted. The fourth year the manure was too hot and full of weed seeds. What if I were trying to feed my family in this way? No wonder nature is so generous. Green Tara does not relent—sprouting blades of grass in vacant lots and cracks in the sidewalk. She plants Limber Pines ten thousand feet above sea level that live for a thousand years in rocky soil. Her fruit trees and grape arbors do not grow one branch or one leaf or one piece of fruit. Kali and the Filth-eaters do not rest. We are not up to our necks in the detritus of everything that has lived and died.
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Is it too much to say that finally I have learned humility? Probably. Certainly those who came before us had wisdom to share had we approached them in a good way. I am a very long way from producing a bushel of corn from three seeds. I am past seeing myself as a rugged individualist, throwing down his labor for his family to eat. I am humbled, I see that I only exist relationally in community and in collaboration with the unseen. I see that nature is generous beyond my imaginings. That’s a lot to learn from three seeds of corn. And I am still hungry. Hungry enough to eat my heart? Some are. I’m not. But how long have I gone on thinking that my heart was a souvenir?
Martín Prechtel said “Plant your heart. Don’t eat it.” I listened.
Author: Mark Gardiner