When she said Oklahoma means “Red People,”
all these years, I’d heard it wrong as “Red Man’s Land.”
It wasn’t the vast history of tribes that came to mind,
or insensitive mascots on my high school’s walls,
on their football helmets and past dehumanizing costumes,
in the state that, in of all places, should know better.
I hope humanity’s racist ways will soon fall.
No, I thought of Guthrie and Debs,
where one year into statehood the state turned red,
which used to mean socialist and not communist, or so I’ve read,
and now it seems once again to be turning,
when my old home state voted in the primary
to nominate that mensch Bernie.
Funny, how nowadays to be red means Republican instead,
and how a Republican used to be an abolitionist liberal,
and a Democrat the white racist party of the South.
As time goes on we can’t even keep our colors straight!
Let’s stop classifying ourselves by colors and unite against hate.
These days the state flag is colored like the ocean blue
with the symbols of war and peace waving back at you,
high above the capital oil rig—
a clue to how the game is rigged,
as the earth is quaking
with the cost of greed that the people are paying.
It’s another man made disaster during a red dirt drought
that sounds like the stuff that old songs sing about.
I thought of the uproar over the original red star flag,
now available on a license plate for the money in your bag.
I thought of my one film professor, descendant of the blacklist,
who spent the whole time teaching us about banned films,
while my own life had already taught me
about the cost of censorship,
when I wasn’t ready to cheerlead that war was the ultimate trip,
so quickly, away one day out of that home state I skipped.
Whatever arbitrary directions
or color codes that peace is assigned,
it is there you can find me just trying to be kind.
I thought of the hopeful lyrics to all those songs,
that played as I dreamed my way towards the wild west,
to an artist’s city equally inhabited by the rainbow of humanity,
to a state that is decidedly blue and turning two shades of green,
in a country that votes more purple, if it remembers, that is.
I thought of the original exodus of Okies from the Dust Bowl,
toward California’s jobless paradise across Route 66,
and how I romanticized it all, when I departed ten years ago,
to a land of rainbow flags, hippie communes,
beat poets, peace protests, and folk musicians.
I blame these siren songs of sixties music,
national truths and elevated myths,
for lovingly luring me to the shores of San Francisco,
for where else but California do wandering hippies go
if raised in Oklahoma, though?
As far as I can tell from most folks,
the myths I chased were not ghosts,
but perhaps dreams set still in motion
coming to fruition among the chaotic righteous rebellion
of creative souls misdiagnosed as hellions
for having opposite thoughts
now cemented in the art of time
demanding never to be forgot.
I leaned a bit more left than those who I had left,
only because I’d prefer a land not so quick to fight,
so sometimes left is right, and right is wrong,
but in their eyes what I write is wrong not right,
and if you’re as confused as me, well, baby, that’s alright.
I pondered the double meanings of the color coding of time.
Even though I’m gone, I think about that place all the time.
So many twists and turns in the red dirt roads of time
that make up the story of the 46th state.
From commie crooning cowboys,
to a state government leaning more Republican,
to the original indigenous Americans,
all meanings of red have applied to its people’s history
with an equal weight.
Old Glory doesn’t run,
but we’ll put it on your lighter and flask,
a pair of boxers, an ashtray,
and anything else we can sell—just ask!
Until one day, you found they bought our democracy as well.
So get out and vote, and return our nation from this Hell.
Whether you lean left or right or somewhere in the middle,
it is our responsibility to break greed’s spell,
and live up to the national values we learned in school so well.
Those values are more important than any party lines.
Blind loyalty to any party will make us lose our collective minds.