I go to a party at which pumpkins are optional.
I don’t bring a pumpkin. I sit in a corner
next to a cat that looks remarkably like the host.
The cat refuses to acknowledge me.
Outside, the host carves a pumpkin. I think,
It is too cold. Later I get hot standing
by an open window near the crock pot chili.
I remove my angora scarf. I stuff it in my pocket.
All day I have had a terrific knot
of pain where my neck and shoulder connect.
The word radiate comes to mind when I think
of my arm also hurting all day. I don’t know why.
At the party, we decide I am not having a heart
attack. After eating a Pillsbury biscuit
“sopapilla” dessert, two squares, I tell stories
in which I am a benign villain. The people laugh.
They have been waiting to laugh for a while.
Most of them did not bring optional pumpkins
either. We have been talking about feline diet,
which I did not bring up, but which is
one of my safe subjects. Later, before
the conversation turns to brain cancer—brain cancer
is not one of my safe subjects—I explain
teasing my excitable mother about the brown coat
my dad got me hand-me-down, but paid for, from
some guy at work and swore it wasn’t a boy’s coat
(unisex was vogue anyway), but I was twelve
with an Edie Adams salon mutilated Hamill (think wedge)
and waitresses thought I was a boy and old men
followed me into restrooms—well just once—
so why I asked my mom, why, why, did you make me
wear that brown coat?
Someone’s going to Finland
on a Fulbright. I listen for a while, pull the scarf
out of my pocket and go outside
where three pumpkins glow happily, each
having taken the permanent attitude of bemused hilarity.
~ Laura Lee Washburn
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 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. She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky.
Cody Shrum holds both a B.A. and M.A. in Creative Writing from Pittsburg State University with an emphasis in fiction. However, his poetry has appeared in velvet-tail and Kansas Time + Place online literary magazines. Cody plans to pursue his MFA degree in fiction next fall—an adventure he will embark on with his wife, Kylee, and their two dogs, Zoey and Zeus.