Laura Lee Washburn

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Artwork by Gene McCormick

The Nice People of Oklahoma

sit next to you at the Chili’s bar
and make friends quick, so
when you leave they wave earnestly goodbye.
Ray orders the old-fashioned often enough
they know his name.  These folks don’t
have farms or ranches but places,
a few miles west or south (and so on)
of Highway 400 or 54.  They keep
cattle or wheat, and might work
helping out other farmers or the oil,
which you can assume means welding
or digging with some machine they
might still owe on.

Big young men appear in branded coveralls
at cheap hotels or in the grocery frozen
section.  The coveralls tell who owns them,
Halliburton, Philips Conoco, Chevron
Petroleum. They don’t come in to the Chili’s.
They don’t know the folks around here.
They are big and sad and without women.

The rest of us are confused about who
owns us.  We don’t wear labeled coveralls,
but glorified t-shirts or dark suits or lab coats.
We react with surprise at proposed legislation.
They say we can’t write columns or thoughts
and say our names and our ranks.  They say
we stay loyal or leave. They strike truth.
Whosoever we are, remains
without validation, unclaimed by our states
that’ll frame us; so says, Professor Washburn,
tourist, visitor from the state of Kansas,
Southeast portion, off Highway 69, who
has a little brick place and keeps a dog

and two cats, and is pretty sure she grew up
unowned, not always friendly, in a time
when you could say abortion and birth control
and write a letter regarding the governor’s
criminal mismanagement of the state finances
and go to work the next day and get paid
and the kids had plenty to eat.

The Albany Institute of History and Art
Egyptian Room, and Box Stove Display

The cast iron stoves sit cold now.
Years removed from drafty homes,
soot free, they shine as black
as black iron shines, the Franklin box,
plain only at a glance
until I see the serpent legs,
classic door and windows in relief,
sold for portability and warranty,
the hearth plate extends to catch
ashes at the fuel door.  I think
first of the flat surface of pancake
griddles, then of a crematory
suitable for the small bodies
of mummified Egyptian cats,
as seen on display next door:
I wish those cats burned
rather than pain me with their size
and with their everlasting small
and hairless ever-present death.


 Laura Lee Washburn is a University Professor, the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and the author of This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize).  Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Cavalier Literary Couture, Carolina Quarterly, Ninth Letter, The Sun, Red Rock Review, and Valparaiso Review.  Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has also lived and worked in Arizona and in Missouri.