Hans Ostrom

Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven


They call each other `E.’  Elvis picks
wildflowers near the river and brings
them to Emily. She explains half-rhymes to him.

In heaven Emily wears her hair long, sports
Levis and western blouses with rhinestones.
Elvis is lean again, wears baggy trousers

and T-shirts, a letterman’s jacket from Tupelo High.
They take long walks and often hold hands.
She prefers they remain just friends. Forever.

Emily’s poems now contain naugahyde, Cadillacs,
Electricity, jets, TV, Little Richard and Richard
Nixon. The rock-a-billy rhythm makes her smile.

Elvis likes himself with style. This afternoon
he will play guitar and sing “I Taste A Liquor
Never Brewed” to the tune of “Love Me Tender.”

Emily will clap and harmonize.  Alone
in their cabins later, they’ll listen to the river
and nap. They will not think of Amherst

or Las Vegas. They know why God made them
roommates. It’s because America
was their hometown. It’s because

God is a thing without
feathers. It’s because
God wears blue suede shoes.


“Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley in Heaven” is reprinted from The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006 (Indianapolis: Dog Ear Press, 2006).

Hans Ostrom is Professor of African American Studies and English at the University of Puget Sound, where he won the President’s Award for Teaching.  Ostrom grew up in a small town in California’s Sierra Nevada.  Later he attended the University of California, Davis, where he studied poetry-writing with Karl Shapiro.  Ostrom went on to earn a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in English from UCD. He has taught since 1983 at Puget Sound. His publications in poetry include the books The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006  and Clear a Place for Good: Poems 2006-2012. Hans’s poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, Ploughshares, the Washington Post, and a variety of other magazines.With Kate Haake and Wendy Bishop, he wrote Metro: Journeys in Writing Creatively (Longman), a textbook about writing fiction, poetry, and drama. Ostrom has also published books about the work of Langston Hughes, and he is co-editor with David Macey of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature (5 vols.) He is a novelist and a screenwriter.   His YouTube channel, Langstonify, features over 800 videos of poems.