‘San Clemente’

With the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation approaching on August 9, I went to the vault to retrieve this “current events” poem written a long time ago. The complexity of the Watergate scandal unfolding month to month in 1973 and ’74 grabbed people’s attention like one of today’s highly rated cable-network drama series. For political obsessives like me, especially those of us who despised Nixon for any number of reasons, the public investigation and subsequent revelations of corruption made an epic story unfolding in real time. In 1975, I began to compose the poem, choosing a semi-formal rhyming structure, which was unusual for me. It has 14 lines, but I wouldn’t call it a sonnet. Maybe it is a “slant” sonnet or “a fist of poetry,” in somebody else’s words. I worked on it off-and-on for a long time. Ten years after Nixon resigned I was living in Dana Point, Calif., enrolled in graduate school at UC-Irvine, and I would go to Capistrano Beach,  just north of San Clemente and Nixon’s home. On the freeway, I often passed the area where I understood the Nixon compound to be. He was there while I was there, writing books about his life and foreign policy. Nixon was the least California-type person you might imagine. This is the first appearance of the poem in public.—PM


San Clemente


We asked if the system had worked when it was through.

The drumming of Post reporters in ‘72

Had White House bag-men scrambling in the stew.

Instead of counting dead Viet Cong, they dreamt payoff sagas,

Talking “stonewall” and “tossing out the big enchilada.”

Credible Dean blew a factual whistle for Sam Ervin.

Milhous squirmed, but knew Spiro had slipped the pen.

The Saturday Night Massacre of Cox drew mail by tons.


Oval Office lawyers and priests trotted out candid lines.

Dick tv’d his edited transcripts, said he wasn’t lying.

But Judge Sirica persisted, the full Supreme

Court said, “Give,” and Rodino, red-eared from screen-

Ing tapes, found the smoking gun. Impeachment’s Goliath sword

Sent Nixon fading west in an un-presidential whirlybird.


—Paul Marion (c) 1975, 2014