"Off Duty Elvis": a poem by Jennifer Battisti

Jennifer Battisti is a Las Vegas native whose work has appeared in Red Rock Review, Minerva and elsewhere. To hear an interview and reading from KNPR's "State of Nevada," click here






Early morning dust and neon
made fragile by the sun.
The grit and smut orphaned
by the goblins of the night.


By noon, the Portland writers conference
will have me tucked
firmly in its palm.
Wearing doubt like a well-fitting garment,
I check my boarding pass: D gates.
The Vegas airport carpet bursts
into patterned blooms of fuchsia, canary;
a seamless swirling hypnosis pulling me
toward the shuttle.


Outside the gates,
a carousel of slot machines lurch like bullies
waiting to steal lunch money
and double-knotted dreams.
I consider the absurdity of my pursuit


And then, there he was, a mere few feet away—Elvis,
mowing down a Croissan’wich.
The King was eating at Burger King.
He was having it his way;
with coffee and hash brown disks.
His sideburns were perfect—
greasy minnows suctioned along his jaw.
The shimmer of rose oil and Vaseline beneath the fluorescent lights left
Presley haloed in the luminous sheen.
The croissant flaked crumb by crumb onto the table
like single roses or undies from vulgar women.


He wore running shoes.
Plain white Reeboks—
His blue suede tucked in his carry-on, perhaps.
Sadly, he was the bloated seasoned Elvis.
And, I suspect, on his way out of the impersonation biz.


A final Heartbreak Hotel for this middle-aged charade.
Then, suddenly, he looked up to check the flight information.
The resemblance was unmistakable.
Those tender, soulful eyes.
This was a costume he never questioned,
nor removed.
Swallowed up into the belly of the bird, I suctioned pen to paper.
Going where I need to go,
to chase the fever which never relents—
That gyration inside my heart.


This poem originally appeared in the spring issue of Helen: A Literary Magazine (helenpresents.com)

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