The Relativity of Suffering and Cornbread Credo by Anne Persons


The Relativity of Suffering

Neck snaps.

Green flecks

speck the pale counter.

The once skull-sized vegetable

now a base without a face

whose children I place

in a silver pot to steam. I want

to scream:

On the radio,

guns and shattered glass in Baltimore,

crumbled bricks and bloodied bodies Nepal.

My best friend calls

and I try to stall

the voices, blanket

the madness

in a topsoil of silence.

She wants to talk

about her new boyfriend,

she can’t pretend

that he isn’t creepily

similar to her late

father who would kill

her if he knew she was still

seeing someone so much older

than her and is that, like,

a psychological complex?

Her rant photosynthesizes

in my ear, transplants

me to my own damp discomfort:

my father, pockets stuffed with stale

green, his muddy emails

about liberal candidates

and discrimination against males

in sexual assault trials,

makes me think of my mother, smothered,

eating salad, skipping dinner,

growing thinner and thinner

and it feels like dirt in my eyes

when suddenly smoke shimmers

in my vision; I realize

I’ve left the stove on high,

flames curling with sapphire

rage as I burrowed

in my curtained bedroom’s

authentic but adjustable gloom.

Numbed by thundering

hum of the kitchen fan, I slide

a stamp of sweet butter

on the broccoli,

each chopped tree


in its private forest of grief.

I have broken

them unevenly, making some

larger than others. I wonder

how much burn

the smaller pieces feel

while their hard-headed

siblings refuse to soften

or simply cannot see

past the reality

of their own home-grown pain.

I wonder if, in their aching,

they remember

the sun’s fat cheeks,

how she kissed each

and every one

of our young faces,

the equal gift

of cool rain to the open earth,

the single stem from which we grew.


Cornbread Credo

with thanks to Roque Dalton

I believe that corn

belongs to the people who first farmed it,

and that people, unlike food, are not commodities.

I believe that each person is like a kernel of corn:

insular as a tooth,

rooted in a common cob.

I believe in eating corn on the cob

with my fingers even though it gets stuck in my teeth.

Relationships should be easy to consume, hard to swallow.

I believe that I am allowed to get angry and cry slick buttery tears

when people forget our country’s charred history—appropriation, enslavement—

even though I’m pale as grits.

I believe that grits taste best cold

and that one’s palate, like their right to equal rights,

doesn’t need a reason, even if it seems strange to you and your privilege.

I believe that, though it seems strange, corn is in everything,

that there’s room for the personal and the political in poetry.

One hides the other in a wind-shivering husk.

I believe that creative writing, like cornbread

after years of starvation, can heal you—

let its sweet kernels melt in your soul like wax.

I believe that the world is beautiful

and that poetry, like cornbread, is for everyone.


Annie Persons is a current senior English major and creative writing minor at Washington and Lee University. She is a two-time winner of W&L’s undergraduate poetry prize and has served as the managing editor of Shenandoah: the Washington and Lee University Review.