The Relativity of Suffering
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
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
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,
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.
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.