By Charles Harper Webb
What serpentine producer snuck her past the censors
to corrupt the Peanut Gallery boys? Oh Princess
of the Tinka Tonka tribe, I loved you more than Dolores
at the swimming pool, Janey next door, or Bobbi Jo,
the best baseball player on my block. I loved
the beaded buckskin dress that couldn’t hide your curvy
hips and thighs. I loved your black braids, your dark
eyes that shocked me through the new TV, smudged
by my lips. Indian girl with skin as pale as mine—
birds and butterflies flocked to your singing drum.
Native royalty, whose name evoked School’s Out /
Trick or Treat / Santa Claus / Home Run Derby—
daughter (I guessed) of Big Chief Thunderthud—
you dumped Howdy, and left me to stomp
the flowers I plucked for you, and shred
the blue-jay plume I’d saved to slide behind your ear.
Starring with Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, you helped
to crown him King before you married a loser
named Lafayette who, driving through Wyoming
(near where Tinka Tonkan warriors ruled?) hit a car
towing a trailer that sliced your car and you in two,
ten years before Jayne Mansfield lost half
of her head the same way. The stone that bears
your white-girl name, Judy Tyler, says you were 25.
Elvis skipped your funeral, wanting (his mother said)
to remember you alive. I would have gone.
But no one told me. And I was still (“Thank God,”
my mother would have said) too young to drive.
Charles Harper Webb’s latest collection of poems, Sidebend World, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2018. His novel, Ursula Lake, has been accepted for publication by Red Hen Press. Recipient of grants from the Whiting and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.
Originally appeared in NOR 20.