A Poem by Laura Washburn

Self-Portrait in First Grade

Lucky child, we have been dreams together
with eyes bright as birthstone sapphires.
When we clasped hands in the white
muff, the rabbit’s fur sold us on its pleasure.

I was like nothing then I would ever be again.
The caterpillar I portrayed in kindergarten
in dyed green Keds was going to transform
into a bookish woman, at least that segment
connected to my feet. I know some
legs and arms went military or complacent,
took drugs, cancer-died, built machines.

We were the child the neighbors came
to take pictures of at the bus stop, blond-eyed
and blue or however that goes, perfected 
in purple gingham like any mother’s favorite doll.
Did I mention patent leather?

This isn’t a brag, the hair and eyes,
the dress, the absolute black shoes
are symbols. Was I even there to wear them?

Imagine being welcomed like that child,
imagine her fear of entering the yellow bus alone,
imagine the flash of the portrait,
the not-yellow of her teeth, the blue bus number
pinned to the frilled pinafore. 

I would like human frailty to amuse me;
I would like to stop her constant
disappointment. I am like the dog
who can’t stop biting at the flea, the one
whose skin welts up, the one who bleeds
from the actions of his own nails and teeth.

The child is going into the halls where one boy
always gets in trouble, where the teachers
rip off his cap to find his father 
shaved him bald, where skin colors
don’t match and all hair doesn’t hang straight,
where she finds meanesses are cultivated,
where she learns to read the first word,
where in small chairs they strain to say it:
I, I, I.

This poem will appear in our Editor-in-Chief’s new collection, The Book of Stolen Images (Meadowlark Books, 2023).

Editor-in-Chief 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 TheNewVerse.News, Carolina Quarterly, Ninth Letter, The Sun, and Valparaiso ReviewHarbor Review’s chapbook prize is named in her honor. The Book of Stolen Images is in the publisher’s hands today and can be purchased from Meadowlark Books.


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