Peter Chapman Poetry

Sitting Outside the White House

It's the last day of the 20th century. The sky is a beautiful pale blue. A man skates past the front of the White House. The lawn is a brilliant green. Crows caw. Cars and trucks enter the grounds. The peace protest that has kept vigil since June 3, 1981 is open for business. The sun reflects off my blue pen which I copped outside the offices of the Washington Post Writers Group while passing cookies on a silver tray on 15th Street in tux and Santa hat. The pen drains the sky onto the paper. I just paid a Turk $6 to take my picture beside a cutout of President Clinton. "Six smackers" he said. He thought I was from California. A girl takes a photo of a man flexing his arm in front of the White House. Another girl walks a bichon friese. My bench looks good, black paint on wood slats with simple iron scrollwork. Jackson on a horse behind me, rearing up, buttressed by canon. A large peace sign floats past on the shoulders of a woman holding a boy's hand. The light above the White House roof is luminous. The big oaks are calm with the peacefulness of lost leaves. A coffee, some newspapers and my tux bag are on my bench, my blue corduroy cap and a cookie. The skaters have sat down in the street and are opening sandwiches. The fountain in the White House yard splashes the shadow of propelled water. A man smokes a cigarette on a bench and drinks a diet Pepsi. He has a conspirator's smile and has begun to laugh. His head goes back then down between his legs. He laughs hard, looking at me writing. He laughs and coughs. The orange cones the skaters have placed to skate around mimick the ballasted redoubt in front of the White House. The man laughs again, loudly. His hat is off now. He smokes. It is clear he is someone's premonition, perhaps his own. I take a bite of cookie. Crumbs fall to the ground and pigeons come up, bobbling their small heads. I open my coat and take off my glasses and put my face up to the sun. It feels good to be here right now.

I went to work and worked for 17 hours. Clinton sat between Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor. Slash spoke to Tom Jones. Bono walked around in a long leather coat and thick sunglasses with gold filigrees. Jack Nicholson. Robert DeNiro. Bill Russell, a great long king of lank. A young prince swooped through the rooms, murallike.

Happy New Year.