Clay Matthews


Three in the morning, because my wife's asleep
and it's come to this. After two days of searching
for Nancy Reagan's voice, I'm in pantyhose,
a magenta skirt, a rubber Nancy mask I found
at an antique store for three dollars. And it's hell
being the first lady—my leg hairs pulled through
an unnaturally orange shade of flesh, trying to breath
behind this mask with the earrings that look
like they weigh three pounds each. I'm suffocating,
but learning, how to save my air for the right words,
how to appear a symbol of strength and wife
in a collar that closes around my neck like a choke-chain.
And I've found something here—a way to address Ronald,
that magical bean, all wrinkles and unwavering chuckle:
My dear and loving husband, let me count the ways.
How I've saved you on stage, whispered the answer
in that enormous, pliable lobe of an ear. And your staff
laughing and talking behind our backs, you the idiot, I
the dragon lady. Let them talk. Let them laugh.
Let them call me crazy for consulting the astrologer
after you were shot, the meeting the three of us had
together, the one she and I had alone, that I didn't tell
you about, couldn't, Oh Ronald, I had to know
what would become of the lady when her fool
of a king was gone. Where did I lose that something,
our young love we found shooting Hellcats of the Navy,
gone somewhere between red ribbons. Just say no.
It's enough to make a girl lonely, to cross her legs
even when they fall asleep, waiting for the day
it all falls apart, like some terribly expensive
China collection, broken piece by piece.



I suppose this piece is a bit prophetic, as I wrote it before Reagan died. Anyway, I actually did find this mask. It's beautiful, and I like to place it over a little light and stick it in the window.