Thursday, July 12

The Cornbread Nation 6 Book Club

Most of the articles in Cornbread Nation are essays, ranging from academic articles to long-form, narrative journalism. But CN guest editors like to mix things up from time to time, throwing in a poem here, a photo essay there, and even a morsel of fiction.

Take, for example, "St. Francine at the Café Max," by John Dufresne. The piece first appeared in the food-literature journal Alimentum, and is reprinted on p. 144 of CN6. Somewhere between prose poem and flash fiction, we include it here in its entirety because it is too beautifully strange not to share.

(Oh, and this would be the perfect time to tell you that John Dufresne will be joining us at our 2012 Southern Foodways Symposium here in Oxford in October. If you haven't read his fiction, let us suggest Louisiana Power and Light , especially for fans of Charles Portis–style humor. )

St. Francine at the Café Max
by John Dufresne

St. Francine of Delray Beach told me she rubs pepper on her face lest she succumb to the sin of vanity. All I had said was, I'm John, I'll be your waiter this afternoon. This was at the Café Max in Boca. Pepper, she said, or a scouring pad. I told her I don't mean to be impertinent, but isn't it already vain to think it was beauty she was corrupting—if only for the moment? I said, for example, I don't rub irritants into my skin. And if I did, would I think I was a saint? The woman she was with, her Aunt Nina, told me that her niece had an appetite for suffering. I said, Might I then suggest the Gaspachee or the Black Bean Soup? Francine scourged herself, chewed bitter herbs, scrubbed lime into her chapped hands, fasted unmercifully, denied herself sleep, wore a hair shirt studded with thorns, and dragged a wooden cross around her daddy's garden. I wondered if we weren't calling attention to ourselves, being, perhaps, a tad melodramatic. Francine said she'd have the Mariscada en Salsa Verde. Aunty would have the Txangurro. Very good, I said. Francine said shew as visited by the devil. I suggested a Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon. Full-bodied, I said. I may have overstepped my bounds. Aunt Nina said, Excuse me? I said, you'll enjoy the winery's full-bore oak treatment. Francine said she punished herself with a crown of nettle. She said during Lent she spends her days in a tiny room, a cell, with only the dummy of a corpse in a coffin as company. Sometimes she wears an iron girdle for mortification. I mentioned St. Agnes, breasts on a silver platter and all that. She said the Cabernet would do.