The Nixon Scenes

1

Cameras flashing, Nixon downtrodden,
Amidst the sea of reporters, he stands out defeated.
“This will be my last press conference”, famous last words,
Stands of bulbs lie around to capture the moment in clear black-and-white.
Reporters stalk him up the red carpet to the podium. There he stands and pauses,
To collect his small speech.
“You won’t have old Nixon to kick around anymore”.
More flashes, and puffs from the bulbs,
And the crowd of words from the gathered grey suits in front of him.

2

Nixon at his inauguration,
The snow falls around the Capital steps.
He sees, and smiles, and does not think.
Two hundred thousand lie in the sea below him,
This is a time for action, he says, and his concerned eyes glow,
His hand clenches into a fist, and the crowd starts to buzz.
There is a roar by the end.

The swearing-in is fast. Nixon’s elbow is at right angle and profile to the camera.
His head is hunched slightly forward, egglike as always,
The old justice swears him in on the Bible,
Nixon stands as in old days,
(Washington did the same),
And the crowd again erupts through the thick snow.

3

That red-carpet treatment on the Beijing tarmac,
That first meeting in the lacquered room—
There lay a scent of old vases.

Diplomats and attachés sit on the marble steps.
Inside, Mao shifts in his armchair—
Another anecdote. The clink of a clear glass.

Nearby, watching him with brown eyes, is Nixon.
Mao sees, and returns a wrinkled grin—
They hold hands, they eschew their translators.

Seven hours later, and the talk continues in the lacquered room.
Finally, a shake in the dim light, and a click of the wall-switch.
They part ways, the suited and the grey.

A week later now, in the Room of State,
Nixon holds a pen beside the treaty,
His eyes still with qualms in them.

4

Nixon at mid-term, with drooping eyes, getting ready for lunch nearby,
Standing with concerned mouth near Kissinger, who looks near with his glances of restraint.
Nixon is back in his bedroom now, pacing up and down with his lapels undone,
His face cast down, and his hair mussed.
He pauses on a strange memory—
He pauses, mask-like, and moves on.

5

Nixon from the checkered couch-covering of a Midwestern living room,
His stern face matched by the boy-glow of his adversary.
Nixon from the department store window of the Christmastime Macy’s,
Ready for the close-up of a peering blonde child with wide eyes and lips smudging glass.
Nixon from a window on the second floor of a duplex,
Near the blue wooden eaves.

Nixon at 7pm, Nixon on the midnight rerun—
Nixon blaring, with occupants asleep—
Nixon speaking to lovers,
Who let the sounds of his voice blend in as “news”,
As the couch bleats happily, clinking the water-pitcher on the dresser.

6*

Nixon at the monument, approaching alone,
He climbs the steps to the lighted portico.
Seeing a young woman, he touches his hand to hers, and she presses back tightly.
She knows of a presence,
And they stay put,
As the altar cracks—
Draft-cards have been thrown in.

After a while, he turns towards a young man, and grabs his shoulder.
The man turns—
Nixon says, “What have I been doing wrong!”
The man stares, blinks, blinks again—
“I’m dreaming, Mr. President”.
Nixon scans the lines again,
He sees another woman, hair in a bun, black, all black.
He sees her, and says the same to her,
She stares, spits, and stares.

He reaches another, asking the same question.
A local stir in the crowd, the president! Murmurs.
He finally had an audience. A ring formed.
She said, in a low enough voice, “If you’re here for the vigil—then get in line.”
And so he found a gap, and stared into the candle-altar,
And pretended there weren’t draft-cards in the fire.

7

The E-P-A. The letters rolled off his tongue, one by one.
Nixon eyed the text, monogrammed and signed by the Speaker and the Majority Leader,
By the Pro Tempore, the Vice President, and others besides.
Now eyeing the last section—“IT IS HEREBY DECREED, THAT THE AGENCY KNOWN AS THE ‘ENVIORNMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY’ WILL BE INCLUDED INTO THE LC-634 FRAMEWORK BY DECEMBER 2, 1970”.
He sees the capital text, and imagines the finality of his signature—
Slowly, he lays the quill-ink on the final blank,
And sighs, back crooked, in his office.
“Mary,” he cries out. “I finished another bill.”
There were more, yes—more urgent matters than this,
The new pile of paperwork was a foot away from him.

8

Phones do not stop ringing, neither in the Oval Office direct, nor the call center in Arlington,
Where smartly-dressed secretaries strain to sound business-cordial to the reporter queries.
“No, we do not have that information at this time”, is the motif line, interspersed with assertions that “Mr. Nixon is busy at the moment”,
The office itself lies empty, the leather chair from the Ike era unoccupied,
The man himself has flown to San Clemente.
Here, there is only shouting and the buzzing of type-machines.
There, there are barely-restrained meetings with Kissinger and Richardson on a too-pleasant morning,
Here, there is drama, reminiscent of Black Monday, behind the Pennsylvania Ave. Iron gate,
There, there are pacings, china breaking, a ringed hand near the collar treated roughly.
The headlines are in the darkest, boldest font; they do not need repeating.

9

Nixon at his last.
His family lies ‘round, his face grey,
Friends, wife, children, grandchildren, a great-granddaughter.
He has no thoughts now, but of the sharp pains that have been plaguing his back,
He lies completely prone on the bed, as the vital-meters buzz red—
Doctors rush in at his still side, his wife turns away—
He hushes the doctors away and squeezes the morphine-bag still tighter—
Children now, and grandchildren, worried faces above his,
Their complexions are dark in the glare.

They’ve tried the medicines now, the Anastrazol,
The Ixabepilone, the Marquibo, the Nilotinib,
The Taxol—Nixon still lies on the bed prone, squeezing the morphine-bag tighter.
The vital-meters stop buzzing, his family still keening around the bed,
And he exits the way he came, seeing the faces of those he loves,
And of those that love him.

The doctors unhook him now, his wife is in hysterics,
His children comfort her and put their hands on hers,
A ball of clutched hands, and all are in tears now,
The patriarch is wheeled to the morgue, and they
Hear the screech of the worn wheels on the tiling.

10

Ten years now, the Nixon grave lies bedecked,
Three daffodils,
A Chrysanthemum, and a rose,
His gravestone is simple and black. His start-date, his name, and his end-date.
He is in good company among these rows.

11

So that was his life.
From ’60 with the young upstart next to him on the boom-mic’d podium,
To ’62, at his “last press conference”,
And ’73, the year of hung head and trudging dress-shoe.
There were more years, as noted, but not until ’91
Did the country note his real presence again, and never collectively afterwards.

 


* Based on Nixon’s May 9th, 1970 meeting with students at the Lincoln Memorial in the wake of the Kent State shootings.