I was just sitting there, wandering lonely as a cloud, when
— honest to heaven — looking out of the window
I saw Elvis. I know I know, but honest to heaven
it was him — or my name’s not James Brown.
There he was, just walking across the quad in no particular hurry,

briefcase under one arm, an airy spring to his gait,
his five inch DA glistening in the breeze.
But right off you could tell he was going places;
he didn’t look left or right, just ahead where he was walking.
Mid-period Elvis. His leather jacket passed within five feet of me.

And I wasn’t alone, plenty of students saw him too. An older one —
probably a third year — went up and shook him by the hand.
Young women clustered in groups, glancing and whispering.
A couple of likely lads snapped their fingers. There was a palpable
happiness, for once you’ve seen Elvis you are never alone.

He was whistling softly. Not a curl, more an expression
of frankness was pursed on his lips as he passed (I noticed
the first signs of comfort eating just starting to grace his jowls).
I couldn’t quite make out the tune, but now I hear it as
the fadeout to ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding.

It was autumn, the odd lost leaf left dallying in his wake
as he turned the corner by the silver birch trees.

James Brown was born in 1966, grew up in Palmerston North, and now lives in Wellington with his partner and two children. He was a finalist for the 2002 Prize in Modern Letters. His books to date are Go Round Power Please (Victoria University Press, 1995), which won the Best First Book, Poetry, Award at the 1996 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and Lemon (VUP, 1999). A third collection, Favourite Monsters, will be published by VUP in 2002.

Brown writes: “‘Loneliness’ was written during my tenure as the 2001 Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury, which was, at times, an isolating experience. The feeling of being on the outside, however, can be quite attractive, especially to writers, and is, more often than not, a commonly held delusion. Elvis strikes me as a tragicomic hero, someone whose myth is vastly bigger than he was. It’s the cliche pitfall of the rich and famous that they end up with many more admirers than friends and die sad and lonely. The poem tries to ‘sight’ Elvis at a point when his myth is starting to gain ascendancy.

“I should mention that I really did see Elvis out my window on a number of occasions. Apparently he works in the Psychology Department.”

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file