Daniel M. Shapiro – Four Poems

First Day of Recording “From Elvis in Memphis,” 1969

On film, his pretty boy water-skier resonated more than the boxer who stood up to gangsters. He whiled away his army time, chronically queasy, karate and amphetamines the sole remnants of basic training. But now he’s really done it, having the omnipresent entourage ejected from the studio. Let him fall on his ass, The Colonel advises over the phone in impressionist drawl. Sidemen would later reflect on Elvis’ drive, the consummate work ethic, how he had relished the stripped-down arrangements, demanded only the finest songs. Artifice would have to wait crestfallen in 23 rooms a short limo ride away.


In His Own Time

Tommy Cogbill’s bass line
in “Son of a Preacher Man”
grins gently like that kid
who cuts up in the back
of the classroom while playing
to only the nearest bystanders.
Others fail to acknowledge
the subtlety because the riff
and snap of Reggie and Gene
offer up a front-row hook.
Spies brave enough to undress
a tune will find an eel tattoo
of deepening slippery blue
in the curved lower register.


Too Young

I bet you know his saxophone solo
that punctuates Aretha’s demand
for respect. Earlier, the Coasters
told him not to talk back, but he didn’t listen.
I mentioned him once to a jazz player, who replied,
Man: You’re too young to know who King Curtis is.
At least he earned his nickname while still alive,
known not only for his work behind curtains,
not just as a loving tribute after his murder.
It’s best to listen to that record on which he shouts,
That’s it, that’s it, that’s it right there.


On the Morning Shift at Graceland, 8/16/77

All he wanted was a glass of water, no food. I gave it to him and he just gulped it down. Usually he would take his time, with a tiny cup. He went upstairs and I got back to cleaning. When I heard that noise, I wasn’t scared. He used to break glass a lot back then. Later, when I knew something wasn’t right, I sent one of the boys up. I didn’t want to go through those black doors.

I remember my first day, when the employment agency told me to drive out to the big house with the musical note. I parked next to the note, went inside, and had the table set before I had even met him. I didn’t think I knew who he was then, but I remembered farther back to a barefoot boy in overalls playing sloppy guitar, sweet guitar. The streets were blocked off.