1139: Dolly Would by Julie E. Bloemeke

202406013 Slowdown

1139: Dolly Would by Julie E. Bloemeke


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Prince. Whitney. Drake. Bey. Taylor. Icons! So familiar, we need only call them by their first names. How startling the time and accumulated effort that fashions a household celebrity — and not just the hours put in by these talented musicians, but also their teams and collaborators. To build an image and reputation from dreams requires herculean efforts that often involve doubts, failures, and sacrifices, but as we hear in today’s poem, a devotedness to one’s art that transforms a passion into a stratospheric journey into the self.

Dolly Would
by Julie E. Bloemeke

It’s too easy to Pigeon Forge Dolly
into 9 to 5, DD twang, to not heed
her Better Day concert advice: Darlin’,

own your truth. Because Dolly became 
Dolly in a fallen chapel of deep woods
Tennessee, strumming into the air,

praising into the only tongue
she knew, her congregation of God,
song, and sex—naked graffiti lusting

sanctuary over the walls: The sexuality,
the spirituality, the sensuality, that’s exactly
who I am, she tells Dolly Parton’s America,

the joy of the truth I found there is with me
to this day. I had found God and I found 
Dolly Parton and I loved them both. 

And don’t forget how they all tried 
to stop her, but even Daddy couldn’ta
wooped the glitter outta her, as she snuck

out back to press pokeberries to her lips,
line her eyes with blackened match tips, 
or how she’d head over to town

just to witness some somethin’ somethin’
strutting down the walk, goldfish swimming
in those coveted acrylic heels, an invocation

for this woman’s town trollope red nails,
breasts booming forward, all a beyond
compare to the eventual Jolene. And all

the mothers saw this too, said, oh no, 
ducking their heads, checking
that top button for good measure,

already forming the trash words
they would whisper later over fences.
I admit it: I too used to see only wigs

and corsets until I finally got it: only
so much fake could be true.
And tonight Dolly proves it, pulls in

the lights all around her, invites us
to pour into that same cup of ambition,
all 5 foot something of her who yodels, 

fiddles, plays bluegrass, raps then can’t,
belts gospel, all a capella in her little sparrow,
louder than a thunderstorm, sending chills

through 98 degrees of solid humidity, 
whooping us still under cowboy hats,
all the faces painted just like hers

smiling back from their derelict hearts
into a song of every last thing unsaid.
A woman married decades who writes

heartbreak like she’s lost every last time,
this country blood in all of her colors, shakes
herself to fire in rhinestone fringe, opens 

the butterfly down in me, holds the mic
to the voice I never allowed, says,
own your trash, says make a joyful

noise, says I’ve always been, says, Jesus.
And I want to tell her how my shut
mouth was my loaded gun, my quiet khaki

was a way to hide; I was taught never 
to be noticed, learned that my peace kept 
my father’s hands from raising, my mother’s 

voice from breaking, that the good girl
took almost 40 years to realize she wasn’t,
and good wasn’t best besides. I am not my own

island in this stream, but now together you and I,
Dolly, we sparkle and quake, we are holding 
everything, walking down that same city street,

the higher the hair the closer to God, singing
mighty after mighty fractured song,
stomping our glitz & sex & Jesus,

praising with every last step, 
and here we come again.
God. And there I go.

“Dolly Would” by Julie E. Bloemeke from LET ME SAY THIS: A DOLLY PARTON POETRY ANTHOLOGY © 2023 Julie E. Bloemeke. Used by permission of Madville Publishing.