My Mother Becomes Friends with Ann-Margret

My Mother Becomes Friends with Ann-Margret
by William Walsh


For nearly ten hours my mother stood in the August sun,
the line stretching down the block around Graceland

to view Elvis lying-in-state. She waited with her friend
who, the following year would shoot herself

and her daughter. It wasn’t jumpsuit-Elvis
or black leather jacket Jailhouse Rock-Elvis,

or Elvis making a comeback from Hawaii.
It was pink Cadillac and Ed Sullivan-Elvis

my mother said, clean-cut, like a mannequin
in a white tuxedo. For years I wondered why

her friend killed herself. Now I know—revenge—how
she could take something away from her husband

and at the same time give him all the world had to offer
in grief. Earlier that spring, I wrote a letter to Elvis

inviting him to Sunday dinner, and now my mother
stood in line to view his casket,

two seconds per person then out a side door
into the wavering heat and news cameras.

Before she walked through the foyer,
my mother saw Ann-Margret sitting

at the bottom of the stairs, roped off, looking up
to make eye contact. She’d been crying,

squeezed inside herself a grief only a lover
or mother can know. I wonder if at that precise moment

had my mother taken Ann-Margret by the hand
and led her into the kitchen

maybe they would have sat at the table and talked,
or perhaps, sat quietly together, strangers

yet not strangers, brought together for one moment
by heartache. Drinking coffee and crying,

my mother would have held Ann-Margret’s hands
across the oilcloth tabletop.

Maybe they would have become friends
and she would’ve called my mother occasionally

to say hello from Hollywood, to ask about her life
and children, her dreams. It was Ann-Margret

sitting on the bottom of the steps, not the sex-kitten Swede
in black leotards and a tight sweater, gritting her teeth

and giving a coy wink as some photographer strafes
a roll of film. It was Ann-Margret, arms wrapped

around her knees, fingers locked and breath-heavy,
navy blue sweater and pearl necklace

my mother said Elvis had probably given her
one night after a show in Vegas. Maybe

my mother would have stayed at Graceland
for the rest of the day, tidied up around the place,

made lunch for friends and family, washed the dishes
by hand. Whatever was needed.

All of this took no more than a second,
then my mother’s friend said, “It’s your turn to go.” 

***

William Walsh’s work has appeared in AWP Chronicle, Cimarron Review, Five Points, Flannery O’Connor Review, The Georgia Review, James Dickey Review, The Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, North American Review, Poetry Daily, Poets & Writers, Rattle, ShenandoahSlantValparaiso Poetry Review, and many other journals. His books include Speak So I Shall Know Thee: Interviews with Southern Writers, The Ordinary Life of a Sculptor, The Conscience of My Other Being, Under the Rock Umbrella: Contemporary American Poets from 1951-1977David Bottoms: Critical Essays and Interviews, and Lost In the White Ruins. His novel, The Pig Rider, was recently a finalist for the Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner Writing Competition.