Huge capital letters on a newsagent’s board:
ELVIS DEAD – handwritten in black felt-tip –
And I gasped as I headed to Chadwell Heath railway station.
“What? WHAT!” I thought in my own capitals,
“How can this be true?” Beyond moody blue.
I felt like throwing a sickie, going back home,
Smashing an LP to pieces, finding a sharp end
And slitting my wrist, I was that pissed.
They didn’t even try to break it to me gently,
Just BAM!! Right there for all to see. Heartbreak.
Later, after work, watching the news and pictures
Of scrawny Elvis, beautiful Elvis, fat Elvis,
I saw the beginnings of him, the wonder of him,
The decline of him, that rotten rock and roll thing,
A complete and utter waste of a king.
They cut the cord and you didn’t fly
Like a deflating balloon because you were anchored,
First in your exhausted mother’s arms
For a welcome kiss and a baptismal teardrop,
Then to me, David, (“beloved’), for my moments,
My turn to gaze and smile and weep
At a beautiful, scrunched-up face, at flickering eyes,
At the tiny sounds of breathing, at new you.
They wrapped you like a tortilla, full of goodness,
Delicious and more than good enough to eat,
And a mariachi band played a Tex-Mex jig
Before fireworks spelled out “HELLO”.
At least that’s what I heard and saw
Under that strange hypnosis.
We exchanged hellos,
His half smile,
He wrote “Clive James”
In midget writing.
We exchanged thank yous,
Half smile, shyness.
I met my hero,
But he won’t remember that.
A small piece of white paper,
coarse-cut and raggedy-round
falls from my young son’s fingers
and floats slowly to the ground.
He looks down, then up to me,
shocked because he dropped the moon.
You know how to whistle, don’t you? (Bacall, the sexy teacher).
You just put your lips together and blow.
Learning to whistle, harder than learning to shake hands, the grip,
To tie shoelaces, the bow, to sew on a button, secure,
To knot a tie, neat, to iron a shirt, smooth. Stuff of real life,
More useful than complete works of Dickens and Shakespeare.
Sweating over homework, learning by heart a speech or poem
To recite aloud in front of the teacher and the class,
The hole in your sock and the ripped trouser seam unmended,
Standing up, delivering a performance, looking a mess.
Once, help was at hand to deal with this practical trivia, this stuff,
Then Lauren Bacall gave up whistle teaching and became a goddess.
It was long before they built the footbridge on the Glen Road,
Just up a bit from the primary school but well before
The brewery. We were playing tig, chasies as we called it,
And stopped dead in our tracks when we heard a skidding car squeal
And a thump. Us nosey kids always up for excitement ran
Like the clappers to the scene. A car askew, onlookers,
A crowd growing by the second and a boy lying still.
“Is he breathing?” “Call an ambulance?” “Any witnesses?”
Various shouts from different people, two kneeling down.
A folded coat for a pillow, a thumbs up: “He’s alive”.
Spontaneous applause and cheers as the boy’s eyes opened.
Step forward a teenager: “Here, give him a sip of this.”
“What? What the hell? Don’t be stupid. Take that bloody shandy
The hell out of here. The damn peelers will be on their way.”
Care, compassion, community spirit, kindness, anger, our world.
Back to our chasies, a bit miffed we missed the thrill of a death.