Peace and Reckoning
By Laura Lee Washburn
i. Of Whom to Beware
Every English teacher has a brother with a gun,
somebody who goes out Thanksgiving for a duck.
The teachers sit home with red pens, or so you would suppose.
They’re planning the future, looking for odd Oxford commas.
ii. National Accountability
Listen up: all the English teachers have taken notice.
For instance, the burn marks never indicated arson, so
we’re killing the wrong man again.
If the indicators of fire suggest accelerant,
everything so quick, who wouldn’t believe
he killed his wife and kids? Junk science.
Don’t worry, he’s black or, anyway, poor.
All the death row murderers lie down in orange jumpsuits
and sleep until their last meal, the fried legs
of chicken, processed meat in a shell,
beans and gravy, fatback, boiled tongue, ribs.
iii. Nonviolent Means, the Chemical Plans: Exigency
All the lies about the country are coming true.
All the truths about the country are becoming lies.
They’ll pull Granny up by her bootstraps before they knock her down.
You can see every lie from your seat in the house.
Like Martin Luther King, link your arms with your neighbors.
Every English teacher has that violence inside.
See the violent sit on the ground. They point their eyes
like accusations. Have even you never wanted
to drop the stiffening toddler into bed as he resists?
When the officers come, they’ll aim red cans.
Last summer you covered your mouth
and sprayed at the fleas in the carpet.
They’ll tilt back your head and spray
your bloody throat. Haven’t you, Poet, been heard to sing?
The yellow spray is trained on your classroom
of literature bullies. You were taught to leave
when the poet smelled burning almonds.
Oh, little Miss Lee, why don’t you ever have a gun?
Your baby doll is marked and torn. The red stitches
have broken where he sewed on the arm.
The traitors to the state trained for empathy.
Sonny’s glass trembles over the piano. The old
woman blows out the light. The fawn, still
warm in the belly, cracks at each jut
of the rock. The cat in the basket is going to leap.
Another three barns are burning. You’ve wanted the park
and the pantomime, the stage dog, and the wink
in the eye of the rogue.
Landmines and unmanned drones, baton carriers,
riot gear masks, zip cuffs, the boot in the neck or the face:
let the distractions be football or poems, the witty turn
of phrase. They’re coming with furloughs and exigencies,
be thankful for the canard’s jerky dried and served on a plate.
Laura Lee Washburn is the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, an editorial board member of the Woodley Memorial Press, 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 Carolina Quarterly, November 3rd Club, The Sun, The Journal, and Valparaiso Review. Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has also lived and worked in Arizona and in Missouri. She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky.