Aug. 29, 2003

Nearing Menopause, I Run into Elvis at Shoprite

by Barbara Crooker

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Nearing Menopause, I Run into Elvis at Shoprite," by Barbara Crooker, from Greatest Hits 1980-2002 (Pudding House Publications).

Nearing Menopause, I Run into Elvis at Shoprite,

near the peanut butter. He calls me ma'am, like the sweet
southern mother's boy he was. This is the young Elvis,
slim-hipped, dressed in leather, black hair swirled
like a duck's backside. I'm in the middle of my life,
the start of the body's cruel betrayals, the skin beginning
to break in lines and creases, the thickening midline.
I feel my temperature rising, as a hot flash washes over,
the thermostat broken down. The first time I heard Elvis
on the radio, I was poised between girlhood and what comes next.
My parents were appalled, in the Eisenhower fifties, by rock
and roll and all it stood for, let me only buy one record,
"Love Me Tender," and I did.
     I have on a tight orlon sweater, circle skirt,
     eight layers of rolled-up net petticoats, all bound
     together by a woven straw cinch belt. Now I've come
     full circle, hate the music my daughter loves, Nine
     Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Crash Test Dummies.
     Elvis looks embarrassed for me. His soft full lips
     are like moon pies, his eyelids half-mast, pulled
down bedroom shades. He mumbles, "Treat me nice."
Now, poised between menopause and what comes next, the last
dance, I find myself in tears by the toilet paper rolls,
hearing "Unchained Melody" on the sound system. "That's all
right now, Mama," Elvis says, "Anyway you do is fine." The bass
line thumps and grinds, the honky tonk piano moves like an ivory
river, full of swampy delta blues. And Elvis's voice wails above
it all, the purr and growl, the snarl and twang, above the chains
of flesh and time.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist David Haynes, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1955). He writes about middle-class black Americans living in the Midwest in novels such as Somebody Else's Mama (1995) and All American Dream Dolls (1997).

It's the birthday of French writer and translator Valery Larbaud, born in Vichy, France (1881). He taught himself six languages when he was still young, and traveled throughout eastern and western Europe. He read all kinds of literature in many languages and wanted to expose foreign writers to a French audience. He was the first Frenchman to translate Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Butler, and Walt Whitman. And he undertook one of the most daunting tasks in 20th century translation when he helped to translate James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) into French.

It's the birthday of American filmmaker Preston Sturges, born in Chicago, Illinois (1898). He was the first writer to direct his own script, for the movie The Great McGinty (1940), a cynical comedy about corrupt politicians, which won an Academy Award for best screenplay.

It's the birthday of physician, poet, and humorist Oliver Wendell Holmes, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1809). He wrote novels, such as Elsie Venner (1861); poetry, such as "Old Ironsides" (1830); and humorous essays, collected in books such as The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858).

It's the birthday of Nobel Prize winning poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, born in Ghent, Belgium, in 1862. His most famous play is The Blue Bird, first produced in Moscow in 1909. It's a children's fantasy that became popular among adults. In 1940, it was made into a movie starring Shirley Temple.

It's the birthday of British philosopher John Locke, born in Wrington, Somerset, England (1632). He wrote Two Treatises of Government (c. 1690), which focused on life, liberty, and property—and the government's duty to protect them. His ideas formed the basis for much of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show