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