My Wobbly Bicycle, 133

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 | 12 comments

How long Elvis has stayed alive! After his death, he showed up over and over. He’s still hanging around. There’s a new Graceland Hotel, bigger than the mansion itself. The mansion isn’t all that big, actually. I took the tour. I was on a research trip for The Women Who Loved Elvis All Their Lives, my fifth book of poems. This poem is in the voice of the first person to spot The King after his death. It was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, by the way. The image I have in my images-1mind in this poem is the old Elvis, this one:






Mrs. Louise Welling Spots Elvis at Harding’s Market


I felt like I was seeing fireflies—getting little glints,

you know, of what’s behind the regular.

Maybe it was the rivets on his suit,

the sunset beaming in the picture window of Harding’s Market.

I was standing in line with a full cart,

ice cream for my grandkids, bread for the freezer, etcetera.

He was in front of me, head ducked under,

hair flopping, paying four dollars for fuses, I think.

He had on a white motorcycle suit,

helmet on the counter.

I’ve never been much of a Elvis fan,

but when you see someone, you know who it is.

Nothing to say about it.

What would I have gained, saying anything?

Put fireflies in a jar—you’ve got bugs

in a jar, dull tails flashing now and then.

When you drive down a road, though, through fireflies,

they look like an eye opening as you pass between.

I wasn’t surprised he was alive.

My nephew getting married—that surprised me.

But Elvis—once a person’s all over in movies and records,

I don’t think he knows when to stop.

I wouldn’t go for a ride on his motorcycle if he asked me.

But when I came out and he was gone, my feet hurt

and I felt tired, useless, like I’ve always

been going toward something I can’t ever get to.


If you want to get all fancy, this poem is about an experience of the ineffable. She doesn’t even believe in it, but then, she recognizes that this is what she’s been longing for her whole life.


I had been working on the difficult poems in The Devil’s Child, (both of these books from Carnegie Mellon U. Press) so the Elvis poems were a relief. I was a breathless, hopeless Elvis fan as a teenager. It was the danger, the bad-boy. (Got me in a lot of trouble later!). This Elvis, the one here, is MY Elvis:



I can think of all sorts of reasons why I wrote this book, but basically it was just plain fun. I am psychologizing him, I’m studying him, I’m sometimes a little snide, but I’m admiring him. Know what I admire? He was all music. He was one of those rare geniuses who was inseparable from his art.


IMG_1478I wanted to use his picture on the book cover, but the Elvis estate wouldn’t let me. They only allow the use of his image on things that enhance his reputation, and this book of poems, well, it isn’t cruel, but it’s honest. So, luckily, a friend’s sister had just sent me a photo. Can you read the telephone pole?


LAUNCH PARTY FOR THE WOODS ARE ON FIRE is coming up! March 16th, at The Corner Loft (corner of Cass and Front St.), from 5-7. Drinks, food! EVERYONE INVITED!




  1. When he was drafted, we’ll, that did it. The last straw. My back was broken and I felt as fully in love and alive as I ever would. Actually that says plenty about my future loves, doesn’t it? The feeling, I suppose, became a life goal. It became what I would always be after.

    • Yes. Though I never once found it from Elvis.

      • Oh, neither did I! It’s the chasing after what can’t be had that’s the interesting part, to me.

    • Isn’t it strange? Nothing changes while everything is changing.

  2. Comment

  3. Well, I’ll try this again. David JUST 15 MINUTES AGO read another of your Elvis poems to me from THE WOODS ARE ON FIRE! So I just read this to him, and now we are going down the Elvis memory lane. Did you know about the Elvis faces on sticks that went all around Kalamazoo? Artist Jim Maxwell was behind those. My prediction, which squares with that photo of the telephone pole, is that if the world lasts long enough, the identities of Elvis and Jesus will merge in popular mythology.

    • I couldn’t wait to read this to Jerry. So funny. Jerry said he knew about the Elvises in Kalamazoo. And yes, the merging of identities could happen…….

  4. Rhinestone fireflies–I like that. I too was fascinated by Elvis. I loved his songs. I bought some Elvis cards (like baseball cards) and in seventh grade I used them to try to get on the good side of a girl I liked. (I failed.) All his best stuff was before the army, but he still recorded some pretty good songs while in the army and had a few afterwards. But wasn’t his 1968 comeback on TV great! I thought the real Elvis was back. The next year he started wearing the white rhinestoned jumpsuit, and in a few years his body thickened, his voice deepened, and he transmogrified into that pathetic Las Vegas character which, sadly, is all many remember of him. I recommend two songs: “Elvis Presley Blues” by Gillian Welch and “Daugherty: Elvis Everywhere by Kronos Quartet.”

    • I have exactly the same feeling for the early Elvis. The later one, good records, some of them, but still. Thanks for the song recommendations. I’ll find them.

    • Again, I admire your poem for the way it captures the pathos of Elvis’s life. As I saw you read it recently at your book launch, I thought of Gillian Welch’s song again. Later I came across a video of it: Here’s an excerpt:

      “I was thinking la’ night about Elvis
      Day that he died, day that he died
      “Just a country boy that combed his hair
      And put on a shirt his mother made and went on the air …………………………………..
      “And he shook it like a hurricane
      He shook it like to make it break
      And he shook it like a holy roller, baby
      With his soul at stake, with his soul at stake,…”

  5. Fleda, I enjoyed your appreciation of Adrienne Rich’s poem in the Record Eagle (March 5, 2017). You wrote ” I’ll bet that Rich had Robert Frost in the back of her mind. . . .” I agree with your examples (“The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”), and I would add a third, “Directive”. Consider these lines:

    Back out of all this now too much for us,
    Back in a time made simple by the loss
    Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
    Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
    There is a house that is no more a house
    Upon a farm that is no more a farm
    And in a town that is no more a town.
    Make yourself up a cheering song of how
    Someone’s road home from work this once was,
    Who may be just ahead of you on foot
    Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
    …pull in your ladder road behind you
    And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
    Then make yourself at home. The only field
    Now left’s no bigger than a harness gall.

    • Oh yes, thanks for pointing that out. She would of course had this one in mind, too.

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