I Will Always Love You
Dolly said no to Elvis and waited for Whitney.
She didn’t know she was waiting, she just kept
writing and singing. Elvis wanted to cover it,
and Dolly was thrilled, but he also wanted a share
of the publishing rights. Dolly said no and cried
all night, loving Elvis of the swiveling hips
and flop of dark hair, his high baritone voice
that could cover two octaves and a third,
nothing like her light bright soprano.
Dolly, never to be outdone could cover five.
Beat that Mr. Pelvis! But like any King he wanted
his gold and Dolly, a poor girl with a big family,
wanted to leave her songs to them.
And she didn’t know she was waiting for Kevin
Costner who suggested Whitney sing it
for The Bodyguard, insisted on the a cappella intro.
When Dolly first heard it she pulled off the road,
turned up the radio, marveled at how Whitney
took her simple song and made it “a mighty thing”,
beautiful Whitney who also covered five octaves
with her perfect vibrato. And though they both died early,
Dolly lives on, her voice unchanged by age, lilting
across the stage at 74, her life far from over, still
singing and singing and singing. A mighty little thing.
from the rafters of her chest,
swaying beneath sheeny satin,
suspended in the choreography
of her bra: twin albino dolphins
breaching from her ball gown's
rhinestone cleavage. Her breasts
are sisters praying at twilight, a pair
of fat-cheeked Baptists dreaming
of peaches, her nipples the color
of autumn, two lonely amber eyes.
When she shakes her metallic bodice,
tinsel swimming up her pink fonts
of nourishment, the spotlight hums
and shimmies with them, the audience,
open-mouthed, stunned into silence
as she crosses her legs and bows, her hair
hanging down, a permed curl caught
in that soft, improbable seam.
*"Dolly's Breasts" was first published in The American Poetry Review and in Laux's chapbook The Book of Women.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Dorianne Laux’s (she/her) most recent collection is Only As The Day Is Long: New and Selected (W.W. Norton). She is also author of The Book of Men, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize and Facts about the Moon, winner of the Oregon Book Award. She teaches poetry at North Carolina State and Pacific University. In 2020, Laux was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.