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 mind 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.
I 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 http://www.cornerlofttc.com/ (corner of Cass and Front St.), from 5-7. Drinks, food! EVERYONE INVITED!