An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Frank Willis

I am in the four percent
of adults 18-29 who told
George Gallup they know
"a lot" about Watergate.
"Watergate" was the building
near the Howard Johnson's where
we'd go when school let out for summer
and eat clam strips. Water-
gate was where we stopped
in a carpool one year to fetch
the sickly boy for day camp,
where I dance in toe shoes
to the Beach Boys, in shame.
Growing up in Washington
I rode D.C. Transit, knew Senators,
believed the Washington Monument
was God's pencil because my friend
Jennifer said so, never went
to the Jefferson Memorial,
climbed the stone rhino
at the Smithsonian, cursed tourists,
took exquisite phone messages
for my father, a race man,
who worked for the government —
I held his scrawled hate mail to the light.

I don't care now that Chuck Colson
has a prison ministry, or that G.
Gordon Liddy ate a rat.

The summer I was eleven Water-
gate was something I watched
with my grandmother on TV like the best
soap opera but also something
she would have called "civic," the things
you had to know. Today in some way
I somehow care that Frank Willis lives
with his mother, without employ,
was arrested for stealing
a $12 pair of sneakers, told Jet
it was "a total mix-up," somehow know
there is meaning in Jet's tending the fate
of this man who saw the tape
on the office door latch. Cog, cog,
cog in the wheel of history, Frank
Willis in Jet these years later,
like the shouted spray-paint on an empty
garage in my parent's back alley:
"Aaron Canaday," his name alone
enough, then a sentence,
a song: "Slick was Here-O."

 

Published in Body of Life (Chicago: Tia Chucha Press, 1996).

Published: 10 December 2009
© 2009 Elizabeth Alexander and Southern Spaces