"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


Elvis is a Mathematical Equation

Elvis is a Mathematical Equation

“If I can’t smoke, snort, 
or swallow it—I don’t do it,” 
Luke laughs. I’m going 
to puke, green face blurs, 

we’ve been in the car
forever. Clouds slip, 
a spider winds a web from 
the passenger side mirror 

to the door. Shoe-laces dance 
on the floor over a bed 
of crushed leaves. “Real clothes 
for ghosts.” A fire balloon. 

Umbrella of smoke, moss 
on a brick. Strawberry 
hit two home runs last night 
against Baltimore, I whisper. 

“Our generation’s Elvis is Cobain 
but it’s not the same. The King 
is everywhere”—he draws a crown 
in the air, Ice Cube’s The Predator 

blasts from the radio—“like 
the Stones do on Tattoo You. Elvis 
all over: Prince, even The Godfather, 
James Brown, it’s all math; I can 

diagram it, Kell. The Velvet 
Underground. Elvis is F.O.I.L. 
Elvis is a polynomial. Multiply 
Elvis there’s everyone else. 

He’s not only (Luke 
draws in the air) he’s the circle. 
Elvis is a cartographer—
do you know what that word 

means?” he asks and I say no 
even though I know. I know 
lots of words: palimpsest; 
Pythagoras; flotsam; simulacrum; 

mitigated circumstance; imbricate; 
lacuna; Kepler; Pynchon; exculpate; 
mercurochrome; Kafka; abhor. 
I know vivisector. Luke smiles, slow-

motions the CD case. Tiny 
brown lines chopped neat.
“Too much is almost enough. 
Did you tell Lindsay where 

you’re at, Kell? I smell perfume 
on you.” My mouth tastes like 
it’s been chewing aluminum foil. 
“Are you ready to go?” “No. 

Can I come inside and use your phone?”


Charles Kell is the author of Cage of Lit Glass, chosen by Kimiko Hahn for the 2018 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize. His poetry and fiction have appeared in the New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Kestrel, and others. He recently completed a PhD at the University of Rhode Island with a dissertation on experimental writing, criminality and transgression in the work of James Baldwin, Rosmarie Waldrop, Joanna Scott and C.D. Wright. Twitter: @charles_kell

Cover photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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