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Lay for the Day
26th June


1977: Elvis Presley gave his last concert, in the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. It was the 67th birthday of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It was also the 22nd birthday of Mick Jones, guitarist, songwriter and singer with The Clash, who had released their first single, ‘White Riot’ , in March. The B-side, ‘1977’, co-written by Jones with the late Joe Strummer, announced “No Beatles, Elvis or the Rolling Stones in 1977”.
On the same date in 1979, Elvis’s father Vernon Presley died, having outlived his son by a little less than two years.

Ode on the Death of a Favourite Fish

Named for ‘The Hillbilly Cat’

When Elvis was dying – the fancy one
with the fan-shaped tail and two-tone body
(silver and tangerine), with extended
mutant fins like a ’50s Cadillac –
the closing stages of chronic illness
had seen the hyphenated veins break out
like iron streams in a throughlight delta.

As Elvis succumbed (who was of a kind
called Comets, appearing a century
back in the U.S. of A.), the ailment
that had made him light in his element,
unhappily bouyant, had him sinking
sickly onto the gravel, mouthing “O –
O – O”, stoically awaiting his end.

While Elvis faded, with his swim-bladder
betraying him, his piscine companions,
Eddie Cochran and Bessie Smith, hovered
with him near the bottom, and nudged with their
mourning lips at his dull and swollen flanks,
once a network of gemlike tesserae,
scales fit for likeness in the Song of Songs.

The affections of fish, rarely mentioned,
were here apparent. For while, to the day
of a man, their lives may seem but minutes,
still, in their clear, hypnotic universe,
like ones that the Northern Line announces,
the minutes are longer than those elsewhere
and are filled with something much like wisdom.

Unluckily for Elvis, though his tank-
fellows too were dubbed for defunct singers,
Smith and Cochran were killed in car-crashes,
and carp don’t drive – but they do have hearts
and bowels, which are as prone as ours, and those
of his late namesake, to constipation
and cardiac arrest. So Elvis died

and was buried underneath the bay-tree
plucked as a sprig from the Venetian grave
of Ezra Pound (tardily repentant
fascist, who may or may not have gone mad
in his cage), where the lines of black cypress
move in procession on the fogged lagoon,
on the bony isle of San Michele.

Perhaps the four glass walls of his world had
become too small for him. Perhaps to keep
another from emulous harm, we’ll
name the next, should there be one, Buddy Holly,
since fish are as seldom aviators
as they are motorists. For now, the sad
fact remains, that the water seems haunted,

that Elvis has left the aquarium.

John Gibbens
from Pisces


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar


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