January 21, 2017. Oh Future Reader, Will You Know This Date?
By Laura Lee Washburn
Because I was in a car driving at the highway speeds cars drive, I saw the fire and I saw the tree. Remember the camp and your friends, how you circled the fire and all night long the flames threw sparks into the sky and the next day your sweatshirts smelled wood’s smoke? But before sleep, you let the fire burn almost to embers, so in each red log came shapes and faces in the intense red and black and red. Anyone could imagine going into that fire cave of log and purified white flame. Because I was in a car and driving, I saw the fire, and I saw the tree, no blaze, just red x-rayed against the black raining night. In cars, sights come in stages, first the red, the light, the thought of fire. Driving in dark country where the fields are winter fallow and the road lifts or curves, you see and then don’t see. The road lines are not always good and white, the pavement shines black and wet under your headlights, and the road lifts or curves, so first you might think “Is that a barn on fire ahead at road edge?” But then drive the highway speed cars drive, and the lift or curve until you see the solid barn behind the light that is red light — that is a flame red tree in the night in the rain—like arteries or bones of a tree, and not, most certainly not, aflame but red all through like any log in the autumn camp fire, its trunk red and black and its branches in stark outline against its farm, the tree all red through so the fire is a living not leaping thing, impossible perhaps, but the car close now and passing, every branch outstretched and curving up or outstretched and curving down, every side branch and twig, and the trunk glowing like a sign. Oh it must be a sign! For who and of what? Have you seen it now? There, at the roadside with your own eyes.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”—George Orwell, 1984
Laura Lee Washburn is 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 Radius, 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. She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky and is one of the founders and the Co-President of the Board of SEK Women Helping Women.