Friday, March 6, 2020

Corn and Rain

Once upon a time, before machines to do the job, I joined my college roommate in detasseling corn. I think I detasseled just one day, but one day made a strong impression. Unfamiliar with detasseling?  Wikipedia says:  Detasseling corn is removing the immature pollen-producing bodies, the tassel, from the tops of corn (maize) plants and placing them on the ground. It is a form of pollination control, employed to cross-breed, or hybridize, two varieties of corn.

We started early to avoid the worst heat of the day, early enough to see steam hover over the Missouri River as we crossed it. Once at the field we received instructions. Take the tassels off the marked rows, leave them on the unmarked rows. Easy. We could do this.

Into the dewy corn we went, wearing giant plastic bags provided by the seed company to keep us from getting wet or cut by the corn leaves. We soon learned three things: 1) We were both shorter than the cornstalks and reaching the tassels was a considerable effort, 2) the bags were uncomfortable, felt and looked miserable and we sweat like crazy in them...they had to go, and 3) the heavy mud stuck to our shoes and made them impossibly heavy. We were better off barefoot.

Image result for image barefeet in mud
Photo by permission from

The sun rose higher, the day was a proper scorcher and the rows went on and on and on. We laughed when Lois had to shinny up some of the taller stalks just to be able to reach the tassel. The Iowa corn rows were interminable. Mud stuck to our feet and made them humongous. We laughed some more. Did I mention the rows were interminable?

Finally the time came for us to be picked up, but our ride did not show up. We waited. We listened. Yes, we could hear the cornstalks grow! They rustled and squeaked all around us. We waited some more, scanning the sky, hoping for a cloud. A rain shower. Anything. No luck, just relentless sunshine. There was no shade to sit in, and our skin had long since sweated off any sunscreen. Finally our ride came and drove us back to the house, just a few hours before our evening shift at the restaurant.

Years have passed, but that day sticks in my mind. Angry pink sunburn, feet heavy with mud, sore muscles everywhere, and overwhelming fatigue. (Happily, Lois and I can still laugh about it.)

Fast forward to Donna Smith's post last week on Mainely Write, asking her readers if they were pluviophiles? A what?  A lover of rain. A person who finds joy and peace of mind on rainy days.  Well... yes, I am a pluviophile, and part of the reason is my day of detasseling. I had to write about it.

I chose to write a tanka, consisting of 5 lines. Lines 1 and 3 each have 5 syllables, all the other lines have 7. Like its cousin the haiku, a tanka often includes some reference to a season, and often has a turn in the middle. My poem takes place in the cornfield, but in it my wish for rain comes true.

Some people feel the rain, others just get wet. - Bob Marley

Rain fell RAT-A-TAT!
RAT-A-TAT! steam veiled the fields
corn squealed in applause
laughter eased our endless toil
toes splayed wide in heavy mud

© Karen Eastlund

It's Poetry Friday. Join the Poetry Friday gang today at Rebecca Herzog's Sloth Reads.


  1. What a wonderful memory and the poem you wrote lets you get your wish for rain. I learned the word pluviophile recently from our local indie bookstore's chalk sign. They often share fun words. And pluviophile is an essential word for every NW resident.

  2. Oh my, what a memory, Karen! I spent some days as a teen picking peaches at an aunt's orchard, not quite the sunshine problem, but also hot & covered with peach fuzz by the end of each day. What a job you had to read those tassels, & your wish (love) of rain comes through in your poem. I'm imagining more than trees squealing in applause.

  3. I loved your story, Karen, it reminded me of a short stint picking hops in England...hard work, too!

  4. Oh, I love all of this. Your memories and the humor in hindsight....the mud, even the sunburn. All so fun and funny. Your tanka perfectly wraps up this trip down memory lane.

  5. Wow, never knew anyone who de-tassled corn before. What an adventure. Sounds exhausting. Great story and poem!

  6. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this richly-sensory memory and poem with us, Karen.

  7. As a Midwestern girl, I'm very familiar with detasseling. Love your poem and the story that inspired it, Karen.

  8. Now this story led to a wonderful tanka, Karen.

  9. I can imagine how good that mud felt between your toes. Thanks for the lesson as well as the delightful poem.