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Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones

The Watergate

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, December 12, 2017.
About this Poem 
“I am concerned with a public and a private context that I associate with the word watergate: the dominant social one, of course, relates to the scandal, but I prefer the other context that grows from an event at an actual water gate. Finally, the two contexts resolve in the music of one word. I was three when I first heard watergate, and I imagined a gate made of water.”
—Rodney Jones
 

The Watergate

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.

Copyright © 2017 by Rodney Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Rodney Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

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poem

A Visit from St. Nicholas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house  
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;  
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,  
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;  
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;  
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,  
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,  
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,  
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,  
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.  
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow  
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,  
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,  
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,  
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.  
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,  
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!  
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!  
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!  
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"  
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;  
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,  
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.  
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof  
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,  
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.  
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,  
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;  
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.  
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!  
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!  
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow  
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,  
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;  
He had a broad face and a little round belly,  
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.  
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;  
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,  
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;  
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,  
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,  
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;  
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,  
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,  
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

 

Clement Clarke Moore
1823
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Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

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Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, Minnesota. Courtesy of National Park Service.
poem

White Trees

When the white trees are no longer in sight
they are telling us something,
like the body that undresses
when someone is around,
like the woman who wants
to read what her nude curves
are trying to say,
of what it was to be together,
lips on lips
but it's over now, the town
we once loved in, the maps
we once drew, the echoes that
once passed through us
as if they needed something we had.
Nathalie Handal
2011
poem

Legendary Lights

O, the legendary light,
Gleaming goldenly in night
     Like the stars above,
Beautiful, like lights in dream,
Eight, the taper-flames that stream
     All one glory and one love.

In our Temple, magical—
Memories, now tragical—
Holy hero-hearts aflame
With a glory more than fame;
There where a shrine is every sod,
     Every grave, God’s golden ore,
With a paean whose rhyme to God,
     Lit these lamps of yore.

Lights, you are a living dream,
Faith and bravery you beam,
     Youth and dawn and May.
Would your beam were more than dream,
Would the light and love you stream,
     Stirred us, spurred us, aye!

Fabled memories of flame,
Till the beast in man we tame,
Tyrants bow to truth, amain,
Brands and bullets yield to brain,
Guns to God, and shells to soul,
Hounds to heart resign the role,
Pillared lights of liberty,
In your fairy flames, we’ll see
Faith’s and freedom’s Phoenix-might,
The Omnipotence of Right.

Alter Abelson
2017
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Gwendolyn Brooks: A Centennial Celebration

A Pulitzer Prize winner, an Academy Fellowship winner, and the first black woman appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, Gwendolyn Brooks was—and continues to be—an outstanding voice in the world of contemporary American poetry. Brooks, who was awarded countless literary honors in her lifetime, was known for writing poems that captured a cross-section of everyday life in her hometown of Chicago. In sonnets, ballads, epic poems, and more, Brooks captured the lives, speech, and perspectives of people as varied as those she encountered in her city, and was particularly known for her interrogation of race relations and class.

This year marks Brooks’s centennial, and to celebrate, we’ve created this new collection of essays, audio, and poems by and about Brooks.

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A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

AASL Best Website for Teaching & Learning
poem

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he'd call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love's austere and lonely offices? 
Robert Hayden
1966
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John Ashbery, 1927–2017: A Tribute

On September 3, 2017, John Ashbery died at his home in Hudson, New York, at the age of ninety. Ashbery had a long history with the Academy of American Poets, dating back to the 1960s when he read in our series at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. He received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1985 for his poetry collection A Wave (Viking, 1984). From 1988 to 1999, he served on our Board of Chancellors, and over the years, Ashbery participated in numerous Academy of American Poets events, including readings at the Morgan Library and the 92nd Street Y in New York City. In honor of Ashbery, and his important contributions to American poetry, we've gathered a collection of his poems, historic recordings of the poet reading his work, photographs from our archive, and more.