Thursday, October 20, 2011

Funny, Sexy, and Splendid - Three Poems I Love

I remember a nun in grammar school saying, "You can't love a thing. You can only love a person. And you cannot adore a person; you can only adore God." Sister may have been right when it comes to theology but not poetry. You can love a poem especially if it is funny or sexy or splendid. Three poems I love are "Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven" by Hans Ostrom, "When Sue Wears Red" by Langston Hughes, and "When I Have Fears" by John Keats.

Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven *

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.

~ Hans Ostrom

Here is a film version of "Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven." 

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

~ Langston Hughes

When I Have Fears

When I have fears that I may cease to be
  Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
  Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starred face,
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
  That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
  Of unreflecting love!-then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

~ John Keats

*Hans Ostrom, "Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven." Reprinted by permission of the author.


  1. Trumphet or trumpet? Several people have questioned the h. I think "trumphet" is what Langston Hughes wrote but as my paperback of his collected poems in one of dozens of still unpacked cartons from the last time I moved, I had to trust If you Google trumphet, you'll see it exists, if not in your dictionary, in "olden" times.

  2. What an interesting compilation you've made here, Barbara. How did you choose among poems? I love the imagery and the very thought of that Vegas meeting. Delightful that you can bring this to us like this on your blog. Thank you!!

  3. Thanks, Laura. I wanted to post three poems that are very different from one another -- one witty and playful, a second, musical and sexy, and another, simply exquisite. The Emily and Elvis poem, "When Sue Wears Red," and the Keats poem were the first ones I thought of. I really do love them. The phrase "the magic hand of chance" shimmers.

  4. The last poem from "one whose name was writ in water" is the one I like the best; it really soars. I came to know Keats from the Science Fiction epic "Hyperion" by Dan Simmons, which quotes a lot of Keat's poems.

  5. Loved these poems, Barbara. Especially Keats. But I hadn't known any of them until I read them here. Thank you so much for introducing me to such interesting work.