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  • Growing, Vegetables
  • Ann Hillesland (bio)


When I was a child, artichokes at dinner seemed more like toys than vegetables. I plucked the leaves one by one, dipped them in melted butter, and dragged them across my front teeth. I studied the magnified grooves and spaces left in the soft layer of flesh. These are the teeth I will have when I grow up, I thought.

On the drive to the coast, the artichoke fields in the fog frightened me. The prickly inner branches speared up, while the lower ones dragged like ape arms. From the car window, the tall plants seemed to move, rows and rows of them marching out of the mist.

At the beach, I peered into tide pools at sea anemones, feathery and flat, like artichoke blossoms. When artichokes mature, they flower, the shallow purple blooms perching in a basket of prickly leaves. Their petals are thin as needles, but soft, fluttering.

The tide swelled in and out, swaying the anemone tentacles. Despite warnings of the sting, I wanted to dangle my fingers in the water, feel the anemone brush the whorls of my fingertips, the print I would carry from child into adult.

After I ate the artichoke’s tough outer leaves, I’d remove the pale inner leaves, limp and meatless, and the purple-streaked leaves below them, exposing the choke, the feathery green teeth of the flower never to bloom. Unlike the grownups, I never cut the choke away to eat the heart. [End Page 93]


Fresh corn bleeds milk. Its silk smells like rain. When you shuck it, it squeaks.

Our soil was clay, adobe the Spanish padres used for their missions. Every spring my mother spaded it, her rusted shovel biting into the gray dirt. It took her days to spade enough for her corn patch. I couldn’t walk barefoot over the turned ground—the sharp edges of the cut earth poked into my arches like fossilized teeth.

She planted corn in a grid of plate-sized circles sunk into the soil. I got to count out the corn seeds and place them in the ground, five per circle, spread as evenly as I could. She covered the seeds with soil and filled the depressions with water, the circles sparkling until the water found a way down into the adobe. I wondered how the little plants muscled their way through that hard, hard soil. How they found the strength to grow tall.

Most seeds look nothing like what they will become. Corn seeds look like corn, dried and dark and wrinkled hard, but corn.

My mother’s hair was dark, with red glints in the sun, and her skin browned and freckled without burning. My hair was blonde, my skin pale. In summer the yard smelled of cut grass and tree roses and wild fennel. I darted through it in bare feet, risking thorns and burrs. The apple tree caught at my long hair. In the evenings, my mother combed the snarls out, leaning in close to work the comb through.

First the corn was a green finger, then a hand, then a slender stalk, reaching to my knees. Soon it was above my waist, my head, leaves long like a trailing dress, its tassel a tuft of little braids the same color as my own hair. Hot summer days, the green imprinting on my eyes, I thought I could hear the corn growing, the whisper of leaves reaching taller.

My mother examined the tassels, craning up to see. Among the cornstalks, she and I seemed more alike. Short, with squared shoulders and brown eyes. The same small hands, stubby-fingered and brown. Dirt under our nails, palms smelling like clay and sweat. All around us, the hot green dwarfed us, murmuring and shifting. I remembered the dried, dark corn seeds in my palm.

In the long summer days, it seemed like the corn would stay green and tasseling forever. The ripe yellow corn exploding with juice was far off. The time when the dry stalks withered white-brown, unimaginable.

The dry stalks would rattle in the Halloween wind, reduced to porch [End Page 94] decorations. At the door...


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pp. 93-96
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