Charles Farrell   © 2010 All Rights Reserved

Dead President

So Iím in slot on the sports desk of the Tallahassee Democrat
            on the Friday night when Nixon dies. The AP alert crawls
in shimmery green across the top of eighty Atex terminals
            and on the other side of the room the news editor,
a tall guy named Mark Pudlow, only everyone calls him ďPud,Ē

with a carrot-colored ponytail halfway to his belt and a gut
            like a sack of bowling balls, an honest-to-god ordained minister
of the church of something or other, he married my friends Rodney and Jolene,
                    after which I considered (briefly) whether I would make
a good minister myself, though I donít even have a nickname,

slams his palm on his desk and roars GODDAMMIT
            not because heís especially a Nixon fan or even for all I know
a Republican, but because itís an hour to deadline
                    and he has to take the paper up four pages, which will piss off
the press room guys. What can you do? Thereís a dead president to consider.

In sports, weíre instructed to get out of the way ASAP and help
            read Nixon copy, so I ram through a no-quotes story on the Braves
losing their third straight and put the section to bed early.
                    Doing this has the feel of patriotism, of duty. Contributing.
Iím coding a Nixon timeline in agate type for the jump page

when I remember this joke I heard when I was too young to get it,
            I mean, I was 3 when Nixon told us he was not a crook,
4 when he resigned. This timeline makes me hope wire services
                    see fit to chart my lifeís chronology. World Series MVP at 30
(which gives me five years to learn to throw a knuckleball).

At 40, won his first Pulitzer Prize for his fine work on ... Or perhaps
            my death will inspire an argument about art,
like the one between Pud and the copy chief, Mark Hohmeister,
                    only everyone calls him ďHomie,Ē who wants to fill A1
with five columns of Nixon boarding a helicopter,

fingers splayed into confident Vís that belie the stomach-roiling doubt
            he must have felt, that anyone feels when they learn the lie
theyíve lived with so long theyíve come to think it true
                    is only a lie after all, while Pud fights for a more contemplative photo,
an image that hasnít become a parody of itself. Something dignified.

I crop an archive shot of Nixon shaking hands with Elvis
            for the jump page. Deadline comes up fast. The back shop crew
cuts, waxes, pastes, and weíre looking for inches to trim,
                    quotes to cut. The timeline is two items over. I blue-pen
a 1969 meeting with Ceausescu, a summit with Franco in í70,

keep the Elvis encounter so the art makes sense.
            Jimmy the composing room supervisor flicks his scalpel,
shortens a life to fit the available space. I ship the page to camera.
                    Jimmy checks the clock, waits for Pud to OK the front page
and I see a chance to tell my joke: Why did Nixon see Deep Throat so many times?

Before I get out the punchline, Pud roars GODDAMMIT
            which for a second I interpret as an indictment of the joke
until he chugs back into the newsroom ranting
                    WHO WROTE THIS GODDAMN OVERLINE,
DONíT YOU KNOW THEREíS NO E IN MILHOUS?

This saddens me. Iíve never sent troops to Vietnam
            or met The King, any king, but Iíve had my name misspelled.
I didnít think anything was at stake for me here ó
                    Braves lose, Nixon dies, itís all just copy
ó but what if I was wrong, what if this is my life?

 

Amorak Huey
Copyright © 2010  

After 15 years as a reporter and editor, Amorak Huey recently left the newspaper business and teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poetry has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Subtropics, Oxford American, and other journals.


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