For one who was alive when he was,
listening to Love Me Tender is like…
it’s like that thing I wrote – the piece
people quickly concluded
was about tombs and roses –
a poem to win applause and prizes
and despite grave flaws, it did.
But it wasn’t the power of dried flower petals
to evoke a long-dead woman I was thinking of
when I wrote it, anymore than listening to Elvis
reminds me of lost loves and – as the banjo plays –
blah blah blah. No, the smell of vulgar perfume
has simply always reminded me of her bedroom –
the big one – that she hogged – in a small apartment.
She. The cat’s mother. Her. The old bitch.
My maternal grandmother. Long in her grave –
and so much the better for the neighbourhood –
as she was a crude, selfish woman
who’d hang her fat behind
out her second storey window
and pass her gas on people in the street.
In fact she was basically a crock pot
of bad odors – which is why she
doctored them with perfume –
dog roses most notably.
What I was remembering was not
“the dear departed” – that old hag –
but the dog – a springer spaniel –
who belonged to a couple
on the first floor. They would
let me play with her
in the yard outside their back door –
a place for garbage cans mainly
but there was a room-size
square of dirt and scrawny grass
and when for an hour or two
the sun would bounce off the battered metal
I would not have traded my play
with Spooky for all the striped candycanes
on gramma’s Christmas tree…and besides,
hers were mostly stale and left over
from the previous year.
Spooky. How great it was to be alive
at five and to play with a dog in sunlight.
How wonderful to have known such moments
that sit bright as those white stones that lie
along even the plainest roads.
When we cry – unexpectedly – at the
death of someone we have known a long time
it isn’t always their passing we are mourning…
when half a life is shared with someone
it doesn’t matter if you hated them or loved them
or even were indifferent. It’s half your life gone
that fills your eyelids ’til the tears spill over.