American Life in Poetry: Column 365

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

It’s an ancient and respected tradition: Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote “Idylls of the King” to celebrate the life of King Arthur, and dedicated it to yet another of the royals, Albert, Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. How many poems have been written for people the poet admired? Here Carrie Shipers, who teaches in Wisconsin, writes about a contemporary superstar.

Love Poem for Ted Neeley In Jesus Christ Superstar

                                                                 Lincoln, Neb., 2009
 

That man’s too old to play Christ, someone said
when you appeared onstage—thirty years
in those white robes, spotlights tracking
your graceful sleeves, the attentive angle
of your head as you worked a crowd. I agreed
that you looked tired, but when Mary Magdalene
anointed you, when you cast merchants
and money changers from the temple, I forgot
your thinning hair and wrinkled brow, forgot
how your story ended: your broken voice
crying on the cross, your body arched as you
ascended. I’d lost track of how many songs
were in the second act, thought there might
be more—the empty tomb, your appearance
on the road, to Peter in Jerusalem—but the cast
came out for applause: soldiers, Apostles,
and women; Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate; Mary
in her red dress; Peter, that sturdy fisherman;
Judas, who has all the best songs; and finally
you, head bowed at our ovation. I didn’t come
to worship but you’ve left me no choice—
I don’t care how old you are, how many times
you’ve done this act before—you still rock
those power ballads, still heal with the same
sweet force before you rise. We’ll always want
too much from you. Tonight, I’ll believe until
the curtain closes, your tour bus rolls away.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Carrie Shipers, whose most recent book of poems is Ordinary Mourning, ABZ Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from New Letters, Vol. 22, no. 2, 2011, by permission of Carrie Shipers and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.