Alexandra Teague

Because President Reagan Loved Jelly Beans

1)      our fourth-grade teacher loved President Reagan
2)     it was Citizenship Week at Fort Worth Country Day
3)     in America, one long sparkling Keebler path
led from we the little people to our leader
4)     (what was the presidency but the greatest treasure pot,
faces like his on its coins?)
5)     this was how a country grew: one bright, sweet seed
at a time: yellow, lilac, lime-green, red, white, blue
6)     we had fed the Hungry, Hungry Hippo its poker chips,
frisbees, flat plastic hippo-feed
7)     when the time came, a patriot was someone who cast
their purple-hearted life into this country’s mouth
at the moment it opened
8)     our grandfathers watched Stallion Road, where
President Reagan fed horses, gentle pats on the noses
9)     that was how a president deserved to be fed:
like a stallion; like a sky god eating rainbows
10)  in preparation for sacrifice, we’d each dressed
as a president or his wife (I brought lemonade
as teetotaling “Lemonade Lucy”) (I wore a white
cotillion dress a stranger had come to our door
years before and sold my mother)
11)  my mother said the woman seemed “desperate,”
“like she needed the money” (I heard this as fairytale:
the birds dropping a ballgown to Cinderella— not as
recession or addict)
12)  my classmates and I were middle-to-upper-class white;
we lived in “a more perfect union”
13)  no one said childhood obesity and diabetes; no one
said children in cages at borders
14)  if life gave you lemons, make lemonade; if life
gave you corn syrup and edible wax
make presidents
15)  he would write us a thank-you if we were lucky
(Dear Fourth Graders sounded a little like four score and)
(we were inside history)
16)  we were inside Candy Land:
(Due to the design of the game, there is no strategy involved:
players are never required to make choices,
just follow directions
17)  democracy meant something like this
18)  even my economist, mostly Democrat mother believed
in trickle down (bright leftover raindrops);
choices sweet as green apple or coconut
19)  the government hadn’t yet explained AIDS;
Def Leppard hadn’t yet explained sugar,
our unending desire to pour it
20)  my friends and I dreamed a watermelon jolly rancher
big as the playground; one day, we’d climb it like a jungle gym,
lie on its slick red licking and licking
21)  we didn’t know the Secret Service threw out gifts,
messages in code—coconut, lime, blueberry, blueberry
22)  we were surely on his tongue when he said, our most precious
resources, our greatest hope for the future, are the minds and hearts
of our people, especially our children
23)  if we were sweet, we would never sell dresses for cash;
if we were Americans, we would never die
outside the borders of Candyland, in El Salvador,
in Guatemala
24)  I wore a stranger’s dress with small cloth roses
like drops of blood from a magic pinprick; like jellybean-
cherry blooming back to real fruit: our first President’s tree
he would not lie about cutting. (It wasn’t lies to pretend
we were Lincoln, Hayes, Grant, Jackson,
their pretty wives.)
25)  we stood in line to fill a squat glass jar
from our separate bags—our smiles technicolor
as the rainbow that arced from cereal box to bowl
between cartoons, as E pluribus unum.


Alexandra Teague is the author of Or What We’ll Call Desire (Persea, 2019), and two prior poetry books—The Wise and Foolish Builders and Mortal Geography—as well as co-editor of Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence. A professor at University of Idaho, she is currently on sabbatical in Wales.