39 Psaltery & Lyre: Michael Hicks, “To a Black Velvet Jesus”

black velvet Jesus


To a Black Velvet Jesus

At the flea market today I called You Lord of the Fleas
and my lover laughed
as we loitered under vinyl canopies
spooning chili from cups promoting Kraft.

Last week she was reading The Exorcist, patient
in the tub each night, while I mimicked Hebrew
from a set of 12-inch discs scrounged from a Salvation
Army store.  On Friday I blew

through Watts On Zen, drinking its essence
as I sipped fresh pear juice on a kitchen stool
when she burst in to say she was starting trumpet lessons
on Tuesday.  I went out and sulked by the pool.

But her giggle today in the flea market stall
gave me hope, the kind that starts a boy
in Juarez brushing fluorescent oil
onto black velvet, trusting that Elvis and You,

Your Mother, John Wayne and Jimi, sharp-
dressed matadors and the late Marilyn might
harmonize under the same blue tarp.
A crazy miracle, like dogs playing poker all night.

Which brings me back to You.  Who majored
in dismay at the uptown synagogue.
Who felt each day a whole incarnation long, badgered
and broke.  Who strolled in seaborne fog,

watching fish flash their neon under Your toes.
Who bled ambidextrously on Roman pylons,
thorns wired to Your skull.  And then the fabulous
party.  So for a coda accept my small improv of violence:

one cheap laugh in Your thirty-dollar face
for five seconds today just outside Santa Cruz.
Let’s call it grace.
Call it the all-night cricket’s noisy string of pearls.


Composer, performer, scholar, and poet Michael Hicks received a DMA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1984 and has been teaching at BYU since 1985. He is the author of four books—Mormonism and Music: A History (1989), Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions (1999), Henry Cowell, Bohemian (2002), and The Street-Legal Version of Mormon’s Book (2012); the first three of these were published by University of Illinois Press, which in 2012 published his book co-authored with Christian Asplund, entitled Christian Wolff.  His dozens of historical and analytical articles have appeared in books such as the Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World and the forthcoming Oxford Handbook to Mormonism as well as journals that include American Music, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Musical Quarterly, and Perspectives of New Music. He has been a guest lecturer at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley and has read papers at various national conferences (including UCLA’s multidisciplinary Conference on American Studies Connecting with Religion, 1991) and national meetings of the Society for American Music and the American Musicological Society.

He has twice won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award (1994 and 2003) for his writing about music and a third time as editor of the journal American Music, a post he held from 2007-2010. His poetry, meanwhile, has been published in Dialogue, BYU Studies, Literature and Belief, Sunstone, and in the anthologies Cadence of Hooves (2008), New Poets of the American West (2010), and Fire in the Pasture (2011).


If you would like to submit your work to P&L, please see the P&L Submissions Guide.