HomeSouthern VoiceAll My Jellies

All My Jellies

by David Kirby

I’m riding shotgun as we tool around Memphis in Tad Pierson’s
‘55 Cadillac, looking for the house where Johnny Cash lived
before he hit the big time, and people are shouting, “What year’s
that?” and “That thing is clean!” and sometimes just “All right!”

and “Right there, right there!” and I think, Funny, nobody yells
stuff like that when I’m in my 2006 Prius. What’s the deal
with old cars? Or any car, really. Dorsey Dixon wrote
“Wreck on the Highway” in 1937, five years after Ford

came out with a V-8 engine and more people began to die
all over the nation. More power, more uncertainty;
more uncertainty, more art. You can cheat somebody
with a car: Sam Phillips promised a brand-new Cadillac

to the first Sun Records artist to write a hit song, which
Carl Perkins did with “Blue Suede Shoes,” though
the car was bought out of Carl’s royalties. Before Zelda
Fitzgerald married, she rode around in the backseats

of convertibles, and when she passed a group of boys, known
as “jelly beans,” she’d laugh, stretch her arms wide,
and cry, “All my jellies!” She made a king of Scott,
at least for a while: together they put flesh on the spirit

of the era he would call the Jazz Age. And then it all
went wrong. What happened? All we know is that Scott
wrote in a notebook, “I knew something had happened
that could never be repaired.” It was as though, having

eaten from every tree in the garden, they turned to the one
that was forbidden to them, and when they ate of it,
they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden
in the cool of the day, and they hid themselves from

the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden,
and the Lord God called to the man and said to him,
Where are you? and the man said, I heard your voice
in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked,

so I hid myself, and the Lord God said, Who told you
you were naked? In Paris, the Fitzgeralds meet Picasso,
Cole Porter, Fernand Léger, John Dos Passos, Hemingway,
though when Scott kneels at Isadora Duncan’s feet in

a restaurant near Saint Paul de Vence and she runs her fingers
through his hair, Zelda throws herself down a stairwell;
later, she collects jewelry from guests at a party and dumps
it into a pot of boiling water “to make soup,” tosses her

clothes into a bathtub and sets fire to them, buys a gigantic
gilt mirror, has a barre installed in front of it, and practices
ten hours a day, seven days a week to “The Parade
of the Wooden Soldiers,” which Scott says later is engraved

on every organ of his body. It was as though the Lord God
said to him, I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and to her, I will multiply your sorrow, and to them both,
Cursed is the ground, thorns also and thistles shall it bring

forth, and in the sweat of your face shall you eat bread
until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken,
for you are dust, and to dust shall you return. Where did
Adam and Eve go when God drove them out of the garden?

Genesis tells us only that they were farmers, so you have
to imagine a little town with one stoplight, a store or two,
and what else: Camels? Arabs? Were there even Arabs
then? Maybe a policeman in a cart pulled by a mule;

he’d go from hut to hut to make sure everybody was okay,
pull somebody in if they coveted somebody else’s wife
or livestock or simply drank too much wine or beer,
since hard liquor wouldn’t come along for centuries.

Scott Fitzgerald dies at forty-four; he’d given up drinking
a year earlier but collapses while eating a Hershey bar.
Zelda outlives him by eight years but burns to death
in an asylum fire while awaiting electroshock treatment,

as much in love with Scott as ever. Years earlier, they’d
rented an estate with enormous rooms on the Delaware
River, and Zelda ordered custom-made, oversized chairs
and couches that made the people sitting in them look like

children—one day you’re riding around in a convertible
shouting “All my jellies!” and then, like that, you’re
wearing a dress that hasn’t fit you in twenty years,
and your face looks as though it’s carved out of wood,

and you look like a doll someone propped up with
a couple of cushions, and your feet don’t even touch
the floor. Tooling around Memphis in Tad Pierson’s
’55 Cadillac and looking for the house where young

Isaac Hayes learned to play his grandmother’s piano,
it’s hard not to think of all the wrong turns you’ve made
and the ones you have to make still. On the drive up
from Montgomery, there are billboards saying God Has a Plan

For You, My Way or The Highway, Do You Know Where You’re
Going, Let’s Meet at My House. And there you are in your
goddamn big car, as Robert Creeley says in his poem “I Know
a Man,” the one Robert Hass would call the poem of the fifties,

and you’re in a rush, all you want to do is get safely down
the road, yet there’s darkness all around you, so you say to
your friend, What can we do? and he says to you, Drive,
he says, and then for Christ’s sake watch where you’re going. 

David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor at Florida State University and has received numerous Pushcart prizes and other awards for his work. His poetry collections include The Ha-Ha, The House of Blue Light, Talking about Movies with Jesus, and The House on Boulevard St., a finalist for the National Book Award. This poem is from his latest book get up, please and is reprinted with permission from LSU Press

Literary Friday, Edi
Eggs Decatur
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