Poetry by Roy Bentley

Read More: A brief Q&A with Roy Bentley

Searching for Signs of Hannibal’s Route in DNA from Horse Manure
The New Yorker

For both of us, school is a forced march through excreta.
Appalachian kids swimming in a deep lake of Difference.
But then Bob pisses himself and gets shamed by a teacher.
The teacher orders him to park his ass on a register in the
Principal’s Office to dry out. Passing, I see him. And stop.
Bob is my cousin, his mother my mother’s youngest sister.
I trade him The Day I Wear Long Underwear to Gym Class
for The Day I Piss Myself and Have to Sit on the Register.

I tell him I’d dressed for gym. Left on thermal underwear
like I was crossing the Alps with Hannibal. All the classes
are studying Hannibal. Nothing about the Wright Brothers,
Orville and Wilbur, from Dayton, who conceived and built
a wind tunnel nearby to test wing configurations. I tell Bob
my long johns must’ve shone like the white keys on a piano.
He calls the keys ivories. Says they’re carved from the tusks
of elephants. At 6, Bob already knows it would be a disgrace

to kill an elephant. As shameful as overlooking the Wrights,
their contribution to flying. The shame thing: we have that.
But maybe the last thing either of us wants is for his mother
to round a corner with a look to say this won’t fly with her.
You don’t have to be Carthaginian or a general who lives
to wage war or even alive in 218 B.C. to be pretty sure it’s
always something—thirty-seven cantankerous pachyderms,
fifty thousand men and, give or take, fifteen hundred horses.

All that animal ordure to step around and the Rhone River
to cross. Not to mention, the elemental intelligence of those
mercifully tone-deaf to the lessons of millennia of suffering.
On hearing my aunt Peg’s voice, I look up. She’s unbagging
a change of clothes for Bob and shaking her head like Olivia
de Havilland in They Died with Their Boots On—where Errol
Flynn is General George Armstrong Custer, a doomed soul
who figures he might as well smile since this is funny shit.

untitled

The Year Elvis Presley Wolf-whistled Lady Luck to a Reciprocated Kiss

Elvis had wandered into Sun Records to cut a second
acetate disc, which would do nothing. He drove a truck.

He would say later, in the interviews, he felt it coming:
that cheshiring between branches of the Tree of Success

and nothing. Holding on, doing it again. Holding out hope
because it’s America. A year before, my mother and father

left Kentucky for work. So, that year, I was born somewhere
other than their home. Those compelled to migrate for a job […]


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Roy Bentley, a finalist for the Miller Williams prize for Walking with Eve in the Loved City, is the author of eight books; including American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press, who is bringing out a new & selected in 2021. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, andPrairie Schooner among others. Hillbilly Guilt, his latest, won the 2019 Hidden River Arts / Willow Run Poetry Book Award.

Read More: A brief Q&A with Roy Bentley