SING FOR ME
For several years in middle age I fell in love
With celebrated women, Maria Callas and
Miss Monkey Business (from a local band),
Then Dolly Parton. O Dolly, in the spirit of the flesh,
Dolly any woman met any place I’d ever been.
And later in the evening of that night
I asked if she would shed
That blond Aldebaran wig and the make-up, please,
Spike heels and that tightest
Cowgirl sequined dress she wore,
Then the reins that held her breasts.
There in the mirror we beheld
The girl she’d lost along the way –
She was so tiny I was taller
Than I’d ever been.
Sing for me, I begged.
I’m any man met anywhere
Who does not matter, and will not, ever.
She sang that song about lost love and bad men,
And there was me, a bad, lost loveable man again,
Full of too much whiskey, tired
Of ogling the ladies in the mirrors
Of the roadhouse bars. I’d lost my job,
I’d lost our tickets out of here, become that man
Who stuttered, howled, wept,
Fell down in the gravel parking lot, cursed,
Swallowed my tobacco, and said I’m sorry, Ma’am,
And she said, to the bunch grass,
To the cows, He’s just a bad man
Gone good. Or maybe he’s just mine.
She took my arm and off we walked
To charm the hollows of the glens
Where every rock and tree could be
A member of the wedding of the rocks and trees.
I love this poem! It opens up the deep-held, sometimes mortifying, obsessive feelings that some may dismiss as “crushes”. Do you have crushes? I am a specialist on the post-humous crush (safer than focusing on the living human!). I’ve done it with John Keats (could I have shown him long lingering pleasures of love?) and Wallace Stevens (might I have been a perfect dinner and concert companion, admiring his wines and his chocolate covered prunes). And Jane Austen was a huge crush, although I was a little bit afraid of the acidulous judgements she would deliver about me.
Orlen’s “Sing for Me” celebrates falling in love with voices first The poem reads quickly at first, with the breathlessness of love. We don’t have a full stop until the end of line 10. Notice the repeated words and the focus on “M”, “D”, and “L” sounds which add music to the poem. Both lust and love have deep transformative powers here and the “bad, lost, loveable man” will go “good” because of the powerful charms of love and song.
I also like Orlen’s use of nature here. The final lines personify the “rocks” and “trees” as being charmed by Dolly and the speaker, as members of the wedding. Orlen is probably alluding to Wordsworth’s famous “rocks and stones and trees”. Does Dolly have the mythic, unscrutable power of Wordsworth’s Lucy? I think so. She is both tiny and enormous at the same time. We don’t know if Wordsworth’s Lucy is compost, a heavenly being, a subterranean figure, as enduring as a rock, stone, or tree, or as eternal as rock, stone, tree. The same is true with Dolly in this wonderful poem.
I am printing this poem by special permission of the author, Steve Orlen, who has written several books. He has published six poetry books (available at amazon.com among other places) including “The Elephant’s Child: New & Selected Poems 1978-2005” “A Thousand Threads,” , “Kisses”, and “This Particular Eternity.”