The Peasantry


“The Peasantry” by Weijia Pan is the second runner-up of the 2024 Previously Published Poem Prize, selected by Palette editors. We’re honored to share this powerful poem with you.

The people, and the people alone, are the motive force of world history.
—Mao Zedong, “On Coalition Government”

I’ve found you more difficult to work with, which,
as I was told, is pretty much how you think of me.

I could smell the fertilizers on your skin.
You could smell the skinflint on my hands.

I could read history from the back of your reddened skull.
You could read me directly, reflected in the eyes of passers-by.

I eat porridge. You eat porridge. I apologize
to my guests for my lack of hospitality. You apologize

to tax collectors for the lack of produce. I think
I heard wars were waged to raise your standard of living.

You think “standard of living” is ludicrous.
I think even the communists betrayed you.

You agree, and go back to tilling your field.
I hate that your face is a mishmash of bones.

As a child, I pointed fingers at you.
When I went to see the beautiful countryside,

I admired and avoided you.
When I zoomed in on the rice paddies,

I feared you would emerge from them.
I feared you would blame me

for not thinking long enough of you.
Then I think for you. That’s not that easy.

You prefer to think about cows and children
so they don’t have to think about cows and children.

But I always fall back to thinking about you
and you will have to learn to become we:

When we finally organize ourselves,
even the masters in the city will invite us to tea.


Weijia Pan