You know how you meet a new person and you start talking about Elvis and you say, "Do you like the late Elvis or the early Elvis?" and they say, "The early Elvis" -- and your heart just sinks because that person doesn't get it.
But then maybe you meet another person and she's talking about how he sang 'Unchained Melody' and how it was different from Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers -- not better but different -- and she says, "I was ten years old and my father was away on business and I was fishing in the toilet with a plastic bag on my hand for a gigantic turd of my constipated little sister's that had clogged up the toilet and it was oldie's night on the radio and 'Kentucky Rain' came on and I listened and I started crying. My sister thought I was crying because I had my hand in the toilet but really it was the song, and that was the first time I heard Elvis."
The topic of Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee" came up. I said, "What album was that on?" and she said, "'Desire.'"
The conversation turned to Phil Spector. She said, "He formed The Teddy Bears straight out of high school and had a hit with 'To Know Him Is To Love Him.' It sounds like a straightforward little love song but nothing about Spector is simple and even in the beginning dark currents are present.
"Maybe you should write a poem about Phil Spector."
"Okay. It'll be about 'He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss)' -- something of a cult classic, written by Carol King, and immediately pulled from radio play because of the connection with domestic violence. It's very murky. The euphoria when you're near the person, the agony when you're apart, the first touch, the first kiss..."
"Don't try to put it into words."
"I thought you wanted me to write a poem."
He hit me (and it felt like a kiss)
So he explained at the first blow followed by a caress --
Promises encased in black vinyl spinning
As my head and heart like Kafka's top.
I should be thankful.
A philosopher of eros he made me, counting revolutions
(Only forty eight per minute?)
The space between action and reaction
Blow and caress:
And let us not forget the moments in between--
The calm respite, the human animal flinching instinctively
No thought, no philosophy, no hesitation there
But only a woman standing
Ah, "but it didn't hurt me."
Or so I whispered, parried, parlayed with him
Or perhaps just with myself, as sunglasses donned
(A mask of anonymity) I stalked
The city streets, bristling,
But his voice would sneak through (he always had the knack)
His aural kisses following like a Spectre
Blaring from televisions, booming from speakers--
Smoking on the curb as I heard him intone
That there was only me,
That I would always be
His baby now.
Now (O you liar -- don't you know that now never ends?)
Still, at the old refrain, the glasses would come off.
Like a sucker, the real face revealed--
My heart and my eyes the same shade of indelible black
Mascara running down and mingling with ashes
As I recalled his promise
And knew that it was true.
That when he took me in his arms
With all the tenderness there is
All thought, all philosophizing, all masking
That I had to admit that he had hit me.
And that I was glad.
Cher Li lives in Toronto.