The Watergate

- 1950-
For most in the United States the word brings a phase
when mortars in Vietnam still whistled around them
and the scandal of Nixon and his Machiavellian buds
poured from the news into their subconscious—I see
that Watergate too: the televised hearings, and in particular
one session—Sam Ervin had just asked Ehrlichman
or Dean or Haldeman, a long-winded, periphrastic,
left-branching question—it must have lasted
forty seconds and seemed three days before he paused
for effect, and Ehrlichman or Dean or Haldeman
answered: “Senator, could you please repeat the question?”
And he did, verbatim! And that is one Watergate.
 
But I think also of the morning my father sent me to the creek
that ran through our pasture to remove a dead calf
a flood had floated north to lodge against our water gate—
a little Guernsey heifer—I had petted her often—
Now flies buzzed around her, bloated and entangled
in the mesh—and I remember her eyes were open,
so she seemed to watch as I pulled first one leg
then another from the vines and wire that trapped her,
and pulled her to the bank through the shallow water.
 
Because the second water gate, which features the tender
relationship between a dead calf and a little boy,
happened twenty years before the first, in which men
break into an office complex in a hotel, I prefer its
posts and hog wire that kept cows from a neighbor’s field
to the gray rows of filing cabinets that brought down a presidency.
The water pours out of the mountain and runs to the sea.
Sometimes I say it to myself, until the meanings leave.
I say Watergate until it is water pouring through water.

More by Rodney Jones

The Language of Love

It has taken thirty-five years to be this confident
of what happens between the noun and the verb.

Eventually, love goes. The image. Then the thought.
No? Then you are still alive. Only a little. And then,

I do not mean to depress you. Men have to hear
before they see. Sacred vows. Dropped shirts.

Women do not speak to men. They are overheard.
Sadness mounts people. Around the burn-scar high

on one thigh, the body of the beloved will vanish.
And the come cries and salt hair-smells of lovemaking.

Secret fiction, holy matrimony, longest short story
the troth two lovers pledge to one another is none

of the president’s business, let him say what he wants.
He is no good with words. Ask any true lesbian.

He should take a poetry workshop with Adrienne Rich.
He should try using the world less and words more

For Katy

When Milo was a kitten 
and spent the night
with us in the big bed,
curled like a brown sock
at our feet, he would
wake before daybreak,
squeak plaintively 
in his best Burmese,
cat-castrato soprano,
and make bread on our stomachs
until if one of us did not rise,
sleep-walk to the kitchen
and open his can of food,
he would steal under the covers,
crouch, run hard at us,
jam his head
in our armpits,
and burrow fiercely.

Probably he meant nothing by that.
Or he meant it in cat-contrary,
just as he did not intend
drawing blood the day
he bolted out the door
and was wild again
for nearly three hours.
I could not catch him
until I knelt, wormed
into the crawl-space
under a neighbor house
and lured him home
with bits of dried fish.

Or he meant exactly what he smelled,
and smelled the future
as it transmogrified out of the past,
for he is, if not an olfactory
clairvoyant,
a highly nuanced cat—
an undoer of complicated knots,
who tricks cabinets,
who lives to upend tall
glasses of Merlot.
With his whole body,
he has censored the finest passages of Moby-Dick.
He has silenced Beethoven with one paw.
He has leapt three and a half feet
from the table by the wall
and pulled down
your favorite print by Miró.
He does not know the word no.

When you asked the vet what 
kind of cat it was, she went
into the next room
came back and said,
“Havana Brown.”

The yellow eyes, the voice,
the live spirit that plays into dead seriousness
and will not be punished into goodness,
but no—

an ancient, nameless breed—

mink he says and I answer in cat.
Even if I was not
born in a dumpster 
between a moldy cabbage
and an expired loaf of bread,
I too was rescued by an extravagant woman.

Related Poems

The Testing-Tree

1

On my way home from school
   up tribal Providence Hill
      past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
   I scuffed in the drainage ditch
      among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
   rolled out of glacial time
      into my pitcher's hand;
then sprinted lickety-
   split on my magic Keds
      from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
   with my flying skin
      as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
   over that stretch of road,
      with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
   that on the given course
      I was the world's fastest human.

 
2

Around the bend
   that tried to loop me home
      dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
   riddled with rabbit-life
      where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
   and a stringy old lilac
      more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
   remembered a door in the 
      long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
   brushing the stickseed off,
      wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel's hair,
   spotting the print of the deer
      and the red fox's scats.
Once I owned the key
   to an umbrageous trail
      thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
   gave me right of passage
      as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
   soundlessly heel-and-toe
      practicing my Indian walk.

 
3

Past the abandoned quarry
   where the pale sun bobbed
      in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
   where the ferns gave foothold,
      I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
   with the stones in my pocket
      changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
   to the slightest leaf-stir.
      I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
   at fifty measured paces,
      of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
   Jehovah of acorns,
      watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip's War
   in its annulated core
      under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
    I have only three throws
       bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
   while the air flowed saffron,
      I played my game for keeps--
for love, for poetry,
   and for eternal life--
      after the trials of summer.

4

In the recurring dream
   my mother stands
      in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
   with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
      Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
   she is wearing an owl's face
      and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
   I pass through the cardboard doorway
      askew in the field
and peer down a well
   where an albino walrus huffs.
      He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
   staining the water yellow,
      why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
   That single Model A
      sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
   where the tanks maneuver,
      revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
   the heart breaks and breaks
      and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
   through dark and deeper dark
      and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
   Where is my testing-tree?
      Give me back my stones!