Two Poems from Oklahoma

February 28, 2024
A dramatic photo of numerous oil wells pumping in a dark orange sunset
Photo by Michel Banabila / Flickr


Each day, I drive beneath the shadow
of leviathan bones, concrete muscles
poured over rebar ribcage, fossils
of future freeways. I walk through

the unnatural valley of glass & metal
spines stacked like vertebrae, story upon
vertical story, jutting from the ground
like decrepit fingers. I wake in a cold

sweat in the cold concrete bunker
of cold war architecture, step into
a street surrounded by remnants
of oil deco & urban renewal. Banks,

oil towers, luxury hotels with rooftop bars.
Paid parking lots & yellow-vested men,
high-rise apartments & gold-plated city halls.
Bomb factories in Oklahoma.

I hope someday we find these fossils
for real, uncover the cracked concrete
of crumbled capitalism buried deep
under layers of sediment and time.

Our scientists & poets will piece together
fragments of the thunderous monsters
that once walked this earth with footlong fangs
& razored claws. They’ll find the bones

of bankers and landlords in long-lost landfills,
the rusting corpses of police cruisers & sheriff
badges. Preserved in amber, they’ll find CEOs
sipping whiskey in comfortable corner offices.

I hope the archivists & archeologists look
at the world they find in the dust & think
Thank God that was 100 million years ago.
Thank God these beasts exist now only

in the cold, unforgiving ground.


I Don’t Want to Turn This Red State Blue, I Want to Get Rid of the State

red/blue/purple squares all look like
the drone’s heat map on the evening news
all the channels of the evening news
report different shades of oppression
talk about “Israel’s war against terror”
in no uncertain terms, call for more money
to bomb more hospitals, to drive steamrollers
over more children & their mothers.
They talk about trans people
like our biggest battles are being
waged on Starbucks nametags
while Starbucks punishes its unions

oil & gas monarchs rift the earth in two,
into pieces, pierce crust & pump pulsing
water deep into the mantle & when
the earthquake hits Oklahoma,
upper-class white queers are drinking
expensive cheap beer in an oil heir’s
video game bar, watching Drag Race
while trans women suffer on the sidewalk
outside the Salvation Army

In college, they come to our art house
meeting & tell us you can send money
to children in Syria but
you have to thank the republican senator
for his humanitarian efforts, so we don’t
send money anywhere, let it evaporate
back into the university budget, let it pool
into clouds and rain back
into administrative pockets

I’m tired of philanthropists & the liberals
who lick their boots, tired of democrats
& their bluish-purple counties where
people still starve, still sleep outside,
still go broke with nervous breakdowns,
still get hassled and harassed by police

I want the opposite of an electoral college:
find the poor & hungry & held back &
let them make all their own decisions

Editorial note: For further reading, WLT’s March/April issue features “From Climate Crisis to Polycrisis,” a marquee essay by Richard Heinberg, and a “Poetry of the Polycrisis” booklist by Susan Smith Nash.

Quinn Carver Johnson (they/them) is the author of The Perfect Bastard (Curbstone Books, 2023), a poetry collection about gender, sexuality, class, and pro wrestling. Their work has appeared in Rappahannock Review, Right Hand Pointing, Cimarron Review, Red Earth Review, and elsewhere. Carver Johnson graduated from Hendrix College and currently lives in Tulsa, where they host the People’s Poetry reading series dedicated to protest poetics.