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Song for the Shade of Elvis on Juneteenth, 2020: A Poem by Gregory Crosby


Photograph by Christopher Smith

Photographed June 19 along the Las Vegas Strip

Editor's note: We asked poet Gregory Crosby to write a poem in response to the image above.


Song for the Shade of Elvis on Juneteenth, 2020

“The King?” There’s no such thing as a good king

Isn’t that what the Revolution was

about (among other, terrible things)?

When you shook Nixon’s hand & gave the War

on Drugs your pill-popping, sequined seal 

of approval, whose voices were singing

in the back of your mind, far & away

on a sweltering late summer night in

Tupelo? Whose voices? From what bodies

did those souls in their sufferance lift up

your heart until it was in your own throat?

Where do you suppose those bodies are now?

What dark, beating heart incarcerates them? 

What throne? What pretender? If I could find

a white man who had the Negro sound &

the Negro feel, I could make a billion

dollars. Ghost, specter, possessor no

one (not even Public Enemy) can

exorcise, tell all the discarded lives

whose songs you sang in the innocence

that is not innocence, not now, not ever: 

Are you lonesome, tonight? Are you?

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