Elvis, Immortality
and Other Poems

by Jim Cody


          Because I have a strong puritan streak, I never paid much attention to Elvis. I didn't see why he was so exciting to so many. This changed when I found myself in Bali, Indonesia in 1987. On the long road leading up to the chief temple of the island at Besakih, we spent the night in a homestay where a portrait of Elvis hung on the wall. A few years later I got hold of a tape of Elvis's best and listened to it up close in my pickup as I drove from place to place attending to hospice patients. Then I realized what was so attractive about Elvis: His voice relayed pure sexuality, especially in his early work. For those who grew up in the 50's, we know how electrifying such communicated sexuality could be. The Republicans were in power and, when Republicans are in power, sexuality always gets buried. Elvis was like volcanic fissures in the mountain of emotional oppression that hung over the country. McCarthyites watched every move anyone, children and adults, made that might be Communist (McCarthyites were everywhere). And that could be anything. So we were stiff, very stiff, and Elvis began the long process of loosening us up -- exactly what rock and roll was about. This was why figures like J. Edgar Hoover labelled rock and roll subversive.

          Thus, in this small volume, you have a few love poems, and poems of early sexuality cracking out of the rigidity of the late '50's in Arizona; furtive glances, even while I was engaged, at a magnificently beautiful Chinese girl at UT Health Science Center Library in San Antonio. Indeed, you might say that these are poems of a lot of things "cracking out": passion stealing into being. Early sexuality and love like cactus wrens in "cactus holes." The warmth of mutual male respect in a small far West Texas town. The hesitancy of the wolf before warmth. An expression of loss in a culture utterly changed in "Artha Sastra Inn." One voice crying furtively out with a different insight on Texas in a state full of self-congratulatory rubbish. A spiritual and poetic leader stealing off into the eternal fire from which we all draw our passion. Ancient Texas land traditions fissuring out into 1970's Austin. And a few more.

          Finally a comment or two on Elvis and his supposedly "utterly modern" phenomenon. Very few have commented on the roundness and brownness of Elvis's features. I always felt there was, perhaps, a little of the Moor there; that perhaps the debt he felt to Black musicians was more than just music. No-one needs information on the black traditions of Mississippi. Few people know that in Mississippi and Alabama there are to this day descendants of Spaniards shipwrecked from the ill-fated Pánfilo Narváez expedition, from which Cabeza de Vaca and two others were supposedly the only survivors. There are 500-year-old García family names in Mississippi, and they didn't come from Mexico. Roots go so deep that we never know where they will pop out.

          Hopefully we are emerging from another period of emotional oppression and locked tongues. Instead, perhaps, of vilifying Bill Clinton, the only stopgap to an attempted Republican "Putsch" that would have made the McCarthyites look like nursery school marms, we should erect little statuettes of Bill around the country reminding us that passion and sexuality always survive. And are good. The only people who should be embarrassed over the interrogations of Bill and Monica are the inquisitors. Perhaps a tradition of American women grinding powder off Clinton's nose to mix as fertility-additives -- like Buddhist wives in Asia -- to cakes, will rise up. Even so sweet and hallowed a literary shrine as Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, advocated adultery as an alternative to the frustrations of marriage (see her book Moods).

Jim Cody
"Loobach, Montana"
9/23/217000 (2000 C.E.)*

          *This is how Alan Freed first introduced Buddy Holly, from Lubbock, Texas, in the 50's on radio in New York. Or at least in the movie version of Buddy's life. As for the date, I date from the approximate date of the putative first appearance of Homo sapiens sapiens. This democratically includes all time systems. The actual date would be 12,500,217,000, dating from the putative birth of the universe, or 4,500,217,000, dating from the birth of the earth. We don't know exact dates, of course, but these dates are probably as accurate as dates can be -- so far.

These pieces are for my generation.
We were numerous.
We were conceived by War,
nurtured by Sputnik,
steeled by war.
We matured late,
will live longer than we ever suspected
and will continue do more than we thought.

Table of Contents


At the Japanese Tea Garden
Jeong Ja
Note Written To A Chinese Girl at the Library Table
Rain Dance
Immortality -- on the San Antonio River Walk
Wolf on a Postcard
The Artha Sastra Inn
The Smell of Cigarettes
Arizona, 1957
Wren Holes
The Important Thing Is to Dance
Today I Sing a Song for Ricardo
Geronimo County
The Hunter


arguably the worst year in my life
a petulant-faced, pale sex symbol
with spyder-gyrating legs
began spinning a net
that would ensnare a world.
From velvet kitsch paintings in Juarez,
to the unctuous Graceland mansion,
to a flower-bedecked portrait of Elvis
on the slope ascending to Besakih,
chief temple of Balinese Hinduism
to most sacred mountain
Gunung Agung,
a world starving for the uem
in a world devastated by yang
snatched up by a most unlikely god.


Chinese: "Yin and Yang"
Korean: "Yang and uem"

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At the Japanese Tea Garden,
San Antonio

My heart is burning for my love.
I wonder what she's doing now.
Her trickster smile,
poised at an angular
backward glance.
Her head down.
Her ebony black hair
urging me to catch her.
How she stares at me,
tempting, taunting to:
come back.
Staring out of the rocks,
Hovering in the air.

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Jeong Ja

In your language,
you are "a pumpkin,"
which means a big, round
flat face, a classic Hanguk algool,
the kind baked into the Kiwha tiles
on Shilla temples.
You are short and sturdy as the
rocks and mountains that surround
the tomb-laden plain your hometown,
Kyeongju, sits on.
Your hands are short and stubby,
genetically shaped for hauling in the nets
your ancestors for unknown millenia
have on the East Sea.
And that pumpkin face is
framed by pitch-black hair
that you weekly put in a new shape
for my benefit,
surrounding your dark brown skin
that causes my heart to move
almost from its cage
as I stare into those equally brown
almond eyes
that looked gently
on me
the first afternoon we met
at Kahm-po
by the living water tomb
of the Dragon King
where we knew, without knowing,
that we were going
to love.


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Note Written
To A Chinese Girl
at the Library Table
Possibly to Give

I've been sitting here for a year
going crazy looking at you.
Would you like to go to my house
and make love?


Can I interest you in a coke?

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Rain Dance

In the early '70's in Austin, Texas
we had a drought. It was terrible.
Day after day, week after week,
deep into August,
the temperatures stayed in the 100's
and no rain.
Nor had there been any rain for two months
A kind of madness was in the hot, dessicating
     summer air.
People's temples throbbed with a rhythm
echoed in the blood.
The sun itself seemed to be throbbing.
People commented they felt like there was
     a big drum throbbing in the sky
     slowly driving people mad with the heat,
a drumming that would not quit.
It only seemed to grow more insistent.

For comic relief, some folks got the idea that for a lark
they'd invite some Indians over from East Texas
to do a rain dance.
These weren't hippies and new-agers.
These were the people who played dominos
     in local bars with sagging walls,
Schlitz and Frito-Lay truck drivers
and people who danced 40's-style
     at the Broken Spoke on Saturday night,
a couple who took care of the re-tards at the
     State Hospital,
a waitress and a bored housewife who's
     husband drove an MKT truck between
     Austin and Temple.
So they got up the money and the Indians
     came down.
They did it at the tennis courts in an apartment
     complex where the State Hospital couple lived.
The drumming started in the morning and kept
     going all day.
Then the Indians left and everybody had a few
                                                                 beers and went home.
That night
     the biggest rain that had hit Austin in 70
                                                                 years broke loose from a
that hadn't had a cloud the day before.
People said it was a real frog-strangler,
a gully-washer, a house-breaker,
and wasn't it funny, they said, just the day before
those folks in South Austin the paper'd said, with
photos, had had a rain dance. Everyone laughed
and remarked what a coincidence it was.

Well, a few years passed and another drought came.
The paper said it was even worse than a few years before.
And the same madness got into the air.
Finally, those people who'd had the Indians down before
     said, just for a lark, wouldn't it be neat to invite
     those Indians down again?
So, they did, and they had their dance again
     and everybody had a few beers and went home.
Well, that night, a rain just like the one before came on
     from an equally empty sky
     and three people were killed in flash floods.
This time no-one laughed or said what a coincidence it was.
People just sort of passed a few nervous snickers and    -   

     said nothing.

There was a story in the paper again with photos
and the author had a good laugh
and the Indians went back to East Texas.
The people who'd invited them down said
they probably wouldn't do it again.

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                      --on the San Antonio River Walk

Writing poetry at Michelino's,
a cafe that may be gone in ten years
or two weeks,
I see
the Comanche moon
watching me through
cypress branches
in clean summer sky,
wisps of river fog
breathing across the face,
reminding me,
no importa que pas' aqui.
some things are immortal.

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Wolf on a Postcard

A set of harsh rectangles.
A blue wolf the color of ice in the middle,
breaking out of silver leaves.
The only warmth is bees
out of season.

A dark void lingers behind everything,
The object of the fear
          of 300,000 years
of adaptation to the North,
while warm, many-colored Mediterranean leaves
frame the left,
dying at the tree line
on the right.

The wolf wishes to go south
but is frozen
to the people of the steppes,

my ancestors,
who will both
and adopt him.

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The Artha Sastra Inn, Bangli, Bali

The uncle-in-law of our landord,
the son of the last king of this province
of Bali
is of the Satria cast, and can only rule.
He has five children.
Two are doctors,
students at the East-West University
in Hawaii.
"Wayan," number one son,
has married an Australian
and can therefore never be Balinese
He is dead in the eyes of the community.

The brother-in-law of the last king
shies away
when we begin to talk of the poor.
A man entering old age,
he has the air
of one who cannot leave,
but hates the non-life he has been
born into.
With finality he says ,
"No king since 1961.
Indonesia now a republic."
With bitter finality, but some relief,
to be freed from a system
that has banished him and his family
to the status of nothing.
We understand his son
who has chosen Balinese death
for life in Australia.
The hotel we stay in,
Artha Sastra Inn, is the former palace.
The red doors to our room,
the former bedroom of the king,
are decorated with gilt-depicted scenes from the
our landlord,
the son of the king,
tells me in the morning
that my flat old Reeboks are adequate
for climbing Gunung Agung, the abode of the gods
from whom he is directly descended.

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The Smell of Cigarettes

All my life I've hated the smell of cigarettes.
Yesterday, tho',
Johnny Malik, the landlord,
gave me three 1x16 yellow pine boards
when I told him I was building bookshelves.
In front of Foxworth-Galbraith lumber company,
he said, in his Texas Czech accent,
     the lingering clip of farmland outside Praha,
     bequeathed by his grandfather,
     who settled in Floresville,
he said, "I got some yellow pine
     boards you can have.
     How many you need?"
While we talked the sweet fragrance
     of Camels
spilled out of the hands
of this former railroad man,
all crippled up with arthritis;
it assailed my nose,
but was sweet and kind
out of the warm generosity
of this good country man.
He brought the boards to me a half hour later,
saying he didn't need any help.

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Arizona, 1957

Living Apache corpses
on San Carlos Reservation front porches
given Presbyterian handouts,

young walking Apache and Navajo
emerging from copper mines
blacker than Dante's road to hell
at the end of the day in Globe
in haze-filled air, so black the sun died,

we drove to our second new home in Texas,
and captured
by a storm
that came faster than my father's 60 miles per hour,
a rain curtain a hundred miles wide
under black cumulus Hopi rain clouds
flashing lightning
that washed away

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Wren Holes

Arizona Sun
120° in the shade.
Air dry as dry bones.

Everywhere mountains.
In the shapes of cowboys
with arms in the air:
Saguaro Cactus.

A 12-year-old boy
with long spindly white legs
sitting alone in an oasis
growing grapefruits and oranges
by an irrigation canal
in the Sonoran Desert
under Superstition Mountains,
listening to Sons of the Pioneers
at a new Chevy car show;
the hint of L.A. beyond the sunset.

Elvis Presley established,
and Mormon kids with their explosive
open sexuality
listening to Buddy Holly sing:
"Come On Along and Be My Party Doll,
and I'll make sweet love to you,
I'll make sweet love to you."

A strange man at the Mesa public library
talking about SahOOdy Arabia;
Spanish speaking unheard
over Arizona skies:
mute Apache kids who....

1957, Sputnik
just before the family's descent into hell,
Beaumont, Texas.
Warm, lythe Mexican girls first

stirring the sexuality
I didn't know I had,
the yang yearning for the eternal uem:
Maria García and "Mary Ann, Mary Ann,
Down by the Seaside Siftin' Sand."
Tender, young, rough pubescent moments:
why do Mexican girls like me,
the white girls never take me seriously?
A desert spring of such succulent beauty
the rest of the earth died.

The burst of yellow cactus flowers
over wren holes.

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The Important Thing Is
to Dance

I was talking to Simon today.
we decided the important thing
was to dance,
not how well. Just to dance.
He asked me what I was doing in
El Paso; "It's a long
story, isn't it?"
"Well, I lived in Austin 22 years,
but you know I'm orginally from
the Missouri Ozarks."
"Really, you never told me that!
The Okies."
"No, we're what the Okies came from. Scotch-Irish, Irish.
Started out on the East Coast...
Appalachia, Pennsylvania, Boston, went west
kept moving, The Ozarks were our last hold out."
Simon says, "Now they're judges and lawyers in
Southern California."
Uncle Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson,
you know him?"
"Yea, well, I know who he is,
never met him."
That's what I call him. He says,
'The white trash is in power...oh
I'm sorry....."
"No, that's ok."
And we went on to other things,
tall, lythe dancers from California;
the fact my wife, who's Korean, loves to dance
...chumuel chupshida....and
we're setting up a reading
for late April.

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Today I sing a song for Ricardo.
a funeral poem

Death comes to all things:
to butterflies, to eagles, to humans,
even to the universe, now we say.
It is only a matter of time.
And we too will pass with death
into that river of fire.

Today we mourn the passing of
one more specific, flaming ball of humanity
who rejoins with that passionate stream,
that we all arise from and return to
whatever it is, whatever its source.

I am not a Christian, nor Buddhist, nor any "ist."
I am witness only to what I see:
the passage of a great and beloved man from this distinct unity of
burning passion, intellect, a path in our own journeys,
and after his passing,
birds, butterflies, bears, the hummers of evenings,
listened to on summer porches;
we humans who are brothers and sisters of the rest
of being, of the everpresent fires
that were not there before.

Some part of Ricardo has passed on to the spirit of this flower
to the passion of that humming rock that carries the song of wind
in the night,
to the burning soul of poetry in a wren
that sings a new song;
another to that gust of wind, or that tom cat that howls
in the amor of la noche, or that cloud that hangs over Franklin Mountains,
or to some mighty bear
that rages to his kin, unknown to humans, in a mountain forest,
or a new inspired human voice,
his or her inheritance truly unknown
but to creation;
and, after the passing of a million rocks, wrens
and eagles, voices or maybe

a few, or even one,
a new Ricardo will nestle in the genius of some now unknown being
carrying on the passionate song of that
newly relocated fire.

(for Ricardo Sánchez 1941-1995)

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Geronimo County*
for Jay Farrington

Jeff Davis,
with ambition as cold as Lucifer's,
lost out in the continuation
of the evil institution.
But evil-minded men in Austin
with nostalgia for their battles
and fallen comrades,
cried out,
"Thank God, we at last have a
county named in honor of
the President of the Confederacy,"

while these passionate, austere, yet
gentle mountains in the Big Bend,
look silently on with curled-lip
contempt for the clammy hand
of misplaced history,
two thousand miles from Richmond
in the glorious Chihuahua desert.

These namers were the men and their sons and grandsons
and great grandsons,
that cry out for States Rights,
mutely for Jim Crow,
for the freedom to continue slavery in any form,
the "right to work," wage slavery, minimum wage,
rather than face the awful truth:
slavery poisoned the mind of the South
possibly forever: lies are truth and truth lies.

A better name is "Geronimo,"
who truly fought for freedom,
from any oppressor, especially the self,
and was well known in these mountains.

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The Hunter

I wonder
if my songs
are worth anything it all:
only two or three seem to resonate in our world.

I am standing outside
on a chill El Paso night,
looking at the stars hanging over the Rio Grande,
in the blackness before us:
the great valley of El Paso and Juarez,
below the red thunderbird
that eternally, patiently bestows its blessing:
on all the river that runs beneath it.

Perhaps the stars will tell me
the value of my singing:
a comet, a shooting star
streaking across the heavens,
a symbol that all the universe
is burning with my ardor.

But, there was nothing, nothing
at all, no answers blazing
through the blackness of space;
Only the outline of my old companion,

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*Geronimo County

The quote is from the Texas legislature of the 1880's when the county was named. The Davis Mountains are in Jeff Davis County, Texas and were also recently the location of a "secession" attempt. The area is known for half-baked, idiotic politics, as well. From thirty miles away in Alpine, in 1998, a Texas State representative successfully passed a bill in the Texas Legislature to deny salary and benefits to any Texas State employee who testified as an expert witness in a trial against the State. This was aimed at a Texas university professor who testified against the State on behalf of a community organization on an ecology issue. The legislator's rationale was that "no-one should bite the hand that feeds him."

Copyright © 2001 by Jim Cody

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