go-go dancing for Elvis

Leslie Greentree

copyright ©2003 Leslie Greentree

why am I always washing dishes when she calls?
she probably thinks I’m one of those people who never
leaves the house who watches TV all night and thinks
the stars of their favourite shows are real

I sling the tea towel over my shoulder
while she tells me her latest grand adventure
a six month tour across the United States
go-go dancing for an Elvis impersonator
the young slender Elvis of course

she’s flying to San Francisco to learn the right Elvis moves
you have to know the right people she says
to be a go-go dancer for Elvis
the beautiful sister has always known the right people
free trips to everywhere invitations to movie premieres
I guess that means she’s always
known all the moves too

what am I supposed to tell her
that I plan to hang out at Totem Lumber in my spare time
next week after I’m finished scraping all the
shit from my walls that was so deftly
hidden by the dainty rose wallpaper put up by the previous
owner that I was scared to death the first time I
pulled out the lawnmower and how I felt liked I’d scaled a
mountain when the grass ended up basically even
and I didn’t electrocute myself

while she’s being fitted for her black go-go boots
I’ll be going through all the boxes I’ve been avoiding
photographs and wedding shots that never made it into
the album the birthday cards I didn’t have time to
sort before leaving: happy birthday Honey thanks for seven
great years you make me so happy I love you

I say I’m fine ask about the tour make all those
encouraging envious noises I always make
with the beautiful sister I hang up the phone and
open a bottle of grenache I’m not going through
those fucking photographs tomorrow

Notes on the Poem

We've remarked before about the welcoming appeal of the current of storytelling that runs through Leslie Greentree's 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection, go-go dancing for Elvis. We've previously singled out "shades of Linda Lee" as a particular treasure with subtle features underlying an intriguing tale. The collection's eponymous piece is equally fascinating narrative poetry. Details appear with deceptively casual placement that reveal below the surface of the narrator's account of her life versus her sister's, how she really feels, even if it's subconsciously. "The beautiful sister" tours as a dancer in an Elvis impersonator's act. As she makes "encouraging envious noises", it seems the sister with the tea towel slung over her shoulder, with the unopened boxes of memories she does not want to confront, believes she is living the life considerably less exciting. But then again, the narrator knows she is not "one of those people who ... thinks ... ... the stars of their favourite shows are real" Isn't "the beautiful sister" just part of a faux show? While she "learn[s] the right ... moves" and perhaps has "always / known all the moves too", what have those "moves" gained her? That stanza framed by empty "moves" is followed by a contrasting stanza of tangible activities, an account of the narrator actually doing things, such as "scraping all the shit from my walls" and bravely mowing her lawn for the first time, something as momentous to her as "scal[ing] a mountain." The narrator refers to her sister's "latest grand adventure", but isn't she vividly living her own life's adventure to a similar scale? One of the final images of the poem offers surprising but resonant confirmation that the seemingly non-beautiful sister is going to be just fine, thank you very much. If you don't know about grenache grapes, descriptions such as this one more than hint that this underrated, underappreciated fruit of a late ripening vine can be alchemized into some wonderful wines. There is a wonderful metaphor here. While the narrator's voice in this poem is rueful and conversational and without artifice, the poet has artfully placed hints as to what is going on in the narrator's psyche, in a poetically structured framework. To paraphrase the observations in this essay on narrative poems (which cites Chaucer, Frost and Poe as examples) a beautifully written narrative poem captures the essence of a full story but adds the metered beauty embedded in poetry.

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