Elvis and the Nun

I usually try to choose representative, typical, poems when I discuss a poetry book, but, though I could identify some major themes, I find it nearly impossible to classify Madeline Defrees. Perhaps that’s why I liked her sequence of seven sonnets dedicated to Elvis Presley.

Somehow the idea of a “disenfranchised” nun born in 1919 dedicating a series of sonnets to Elvis, “The King,” appeals to me for ultimately every good poet must challenge our stereotypes.

A Crown of Sonnets for “The King”

I. THE UNDERTAKER’S DREAM

Around the Oklahoma copper casket,
the dream stars Army buddies playing taps,
heartbreak hotel the sum of all your trips
while thousands stand in line to buy a ticket.
Elvis, it’s hard to screw your swiveling hips
tight as a lightbulb into this final socket,
your body carried away in the gold lamé jacket
as something keeps breaking loose and the music stops.

When Charlie Hodge, with deft mascara brush,
tenderly changed to black your temples’ gray
the “Memphis Mafia” knew how to make
the most of loyalty amid the crush.
Stand back and let him breathe. Don’t go away!
These are the words I hear as I awake.

Looking back, of course, I find it hard to believe how much of an Elvis fan I was, waiting by the radio for the disk jockey to play “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Hound Dog” time after time, at least until we got a 45 record player and I could buy my first record: “Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog.” Who would have ever guessed that “Heartbreak Hotel” would foreshadow Elvis’ life? Then again, who would have thought that Elvis would trade in his leather jacket for a “gold lamé jacket?” Lame is right!

Ultimately, Defrees seems to capture the enigma of Elvis in the line “Stand back and let him breathe! Don’t go away.” He couldn’t live without the adulation of his fans, but he couldn’t cope with it, either.

3 thoughts on “Elvis and the Nun

  1. Cool indeed. Is he perhaps the reason she is disenfranchised? LOL

    “…screw your swiveling hips
    tight as a light bulb into this final socket,…” I love that line!!

  2. Jessica Powers was a Carmelite nun. She was born in 1905. Here’s a poem of hers:

    God sits on a chair of darkness in my soul.
    He is God alone, supreme in His majesty.
    I sit at His feet, a child in the dark beside Him;
    my joy is aware of His glance and my sorrow is tempted
    to rest on the thought that His face is turned from me
    He is clothed in the robes of His mercy, voluminous garments –
    not velvet or silk and affable to the touch,
    but fabric strong for a frantic hand to clutch.
    and I hold to it fast with the fingers of my will.
    Here is my cry of faith, my deep avowal
    to the Divinity that I am dust.
    Here is the loud profession of my trust.
    I need not go abroad
    to the hills of speech or the hinterlands of music
    for a crier to walk in my soul where all is still.
    I have this potent prayer through good or ill:
    here in the dark I clutch the garments of God.

What do you think?