i saw the ghost of elvis down on union avenue

07Sep09
Aside from today being one of the most fantastic days I’ve had in a long time–including no less than a three-hour roadtrip, a tour of Graceland, and Lisa-Marie standing next to the Lisa Marie–I also had one of the most poetic experiences of my life.

After standing in the humidity, staring down at the spot where Jeff Buckley drowned in the Wolf River Harbor, and after watching the sun sink over the Mississippi River, and after unexpectedly stumbling into a music festival on Main Street in Memphis, and after walking up and down Beale Street literally singing “Walking in Memphis” to myself, and all of this after vising Graceland and seeing Elvis Presley’s grave, still none of it compares to the sensation of driving across the Mississippi River on a beautiful bridge just after dark, with one of my greatest friends riding shotgun, crossing the Tennessee-Arkansas stateline just to say we did, while heat lightening raged above the Memphis skyline and a Genuis playlist based on Gaslight Anthem’s “High Lonesome” played the Frightened Rabbits’ “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms.”

And though the Mississippi River belongs to Mark Twain, the only thing I could think of in that moment was Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d” and how the moment was just so beautifully, heartbreakingly American: the freedom of the open road, the depth and breadth of the river underneath us, the neon lights and blues music of Memphis lighting up the eastern shore, and the rage of a Southern summer thunderstorm brewing just above us.

Elvis was in that moment. And Mark Twain was in that moment. And Martin Luther King, Jr. And Walt Whitman. And Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. And Emily Dickinson. And Jason Isbell. And Jack Kerouac. And every American artist and poet who’s ever written about the road, and the South, and freedom, and the heat. They were all there, crammed in the cab of my truck with Lis and me, crossing back into Tennessee from Arkansas, gazing out my cracked windshield at the white flashes of cloud-to-cloud lightening illuminating the ink black, humidity-thick sky over America’s greatest waterway.

And it was perfect. It is so precisely etched in my mind, like the lightening was etched on my retinas, that it will never leave me. And just like Whitman’s poem, I’ll mourn its passing now that it’s gone, but the memory of it–and the memory of how it felt–will never fade away.

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3 Responses to “i saw the ghost of elvis down on union avenue”

  1. 1 yessaidyes

    ah, lilacs is such a beautiful poem. I once made Amber listen to me read the ENTIRE thing. I don’t care if it isn’t in fashion that much these days: I love America.

  2. 2 libby

    i believe “southern summer thunderstorm” may be one of the prettiest phrases i have ever read.

  3. 3 Mom

    I wish I could have been there with you. Your description of this wonderful day in your life brought me to tears. I’m glad you got to share it with your lovely Scottish friend.


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