Your name an anamgram for “evils” and for “lives,”
of course we followed you. I wore
blue suede shoes, long sideburns, turquoise shirts
and tried to learn guitar,
but the best that I could do was play “Heartbreak Hotel”
on my harmonica. . . .You were
what our parents tried to chase away,
moonshine, warble, A-bomb, drive-in sex,
so raw and aw shucks innocent at once
girls never knew which Elvis would come next,
the bedroom eyes,
or country boy up to his country tricks.
Late in '56, a knowing teen could drive
three hundred miles
from Elvis song to Elvis song, one picking up
where the other faded into needle clicks. Silvered dials
spun through endless stations playing faint or loud
your “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “Don't Be Cruel”
into my high school junior and my high school senior year.
You were our troubadour before I knew the word,
black voice coming out of white,
English honeyed, jazzed up, sultry, blurred,
then pure alto clear. You made Perry Como sound
like oatmeal curd.
Self-creating, self-destructing, petulant,
rocking from the flip side of the tracks each night,
you were the rebel girls could form by proper love,
another wrong America turned right.
If you could swing yourself from Memphis, then
any smart-assed boy could see his name in lights.
When I finally left you, Elvis, it was for
college books, for coeds who hummed Bach, for poetry
by Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac. . . .
Strange fruit hanging from a Southern tree
grew into civil rights and Ban the Bomb
and finally into Vietnam. These weren't your urgencies.
Yet you still sang on. Down through the years, Teddy Bear,
I caught you here and there
strumming underneath our new hypocrisies,
your raunchy brashness curled in gospel prayer.
The audience was screaming as you took the stage,
“Elvis! Elvis! Elvis!” -- king of comeback, heartthrob of despair.
Omnivorous, nocturnal, fearful things—and yet
supplier of the jocular “Oh, rats!”
(which indicates a small upset,
an easily correctable this or that),
water rat, sewer rat, common rat, brown rat,
leaving your dirty smudges smeared around the holes
you chew in riverbanks, or for passageways
between your damaged goods and my plaster walls,
why do you come forth now? The world I walked
was meadow, fields, long Paris avenues,
voices gentle, shoulders barely touched,
watercolors, fountains, Nick at Nite, soft shoes,
and rats were plastic things in women's hair
to fluff it out. Rats were Cagney's criminals
who squealed and got deep-sixed and then
usually the movie ended swell.
But you, travelers in boxed grains, root-diggers,
climbers, swimmers, experts at escape,
egg-eaters, chicken-killers, monthly procreators,
carriers of typhus and bubonic plague,
flood causers, fire-starters—running, always running
from snakes, owls, skunks, weasels, mink, and dogs,
have somehow scraped into my dreams at last
and I can hear you there. In the gray, dim fog
that swirls around the lamp post, in the alleyways
beneath the empty clothesline, in the dark
hammock moons that shell a cancer victim's eyes,
your whiskers and your snouts, the smirks
you leave behind you as you raid, retreat, raid
wiretap, terrorize, crawl beneath the floor boards
to undermine the bright and beautiful—you palindrone
of Star, you shits! Eat now my last words.