Friday, April 9, 2010

Hans Ostrom's "Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven"

I really wanted to do a food-related poem today (because I need to get better about this Foodie Friday thing), but my love for this poem won out. There's something wonderfully loopy and touching about the idea that Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley striking up a friendship in heaven. Although it seems incongruous at first, this poem does a nice job convincing you that this couple makes a great deal of sense...

“Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven”

Hans Ostrom

They call each other E. Elvis picks
wildflowers near the river and brings
them to Emily. She explains half-rhymes to him.

In heaven Emily wears her hair long, sports
Levis and western blouses with rhinestones.
Elvis is lean again, wears baggy trousers

and T-shirts, a letterman's jacket from Tupelo High.
They take long walks and often hold hands.
She prefers they remain just friends. Forever.

Emily's poems now contain naugahyde, Cadillacs,
Electricity, jets, TV, Little Richard and Richard
Nixon. The rock-a-billy rhythm makes her smile.

Elvis likes himself with style. This afternoon
he will play guitar and sing "I Taste a Liquor
Never Brewed" to the tune of "Love Me Tender."

Emily will clap and harmonize. Alone
in their cabins later, they'll listen to the river
and nap. They will not think of Amherst

or Las Vegas. They know why God made them
roommates. It's because America
was their hometown. It's because

God is a thing
without feathers. It's because
God wears blue suede shoes.

There is so much to like about this poem. In addition to its playfulness (Emily only wants to be friends with Elvis) and its allusions to the works of both Emily and Elvis, I love how Ostrom skillfully makes the connection between Emily and Elvis seem not just plausible but natural. Although it might seem like a leap from the Belle of Amherst to the King of Rock and Roll, this poem shows that, besides being skilled artists and icons, they are both undeniably American in their own way. Consequently, God has made these two roommates, and they have forged a true friendship (and perhaps have found the companionship that eluded them on earth).

Besides reading this poem to yourself, be certain to check out the dramatization of it on YouTube, with the author reading the poem. It is beautifully done (sorry for not embedding it in the post - it was a tad too wide to fit).