Read More: A brief Q & A with Roy Bentley
The Year of Sudden Vanishings
1. Confessions of a Stone Angel
Unlike the grasses, I do my share of holding still.
Once in a great while the liquefaction of limb will
come upon me and, I confess, I dismount the plinth.
I saw my neighbor watching like some younger sister.
I caught the glint of interest in her marble-granite eyes.
She wants to know why anything this side of the topsoil
chooses what it does? If she’d been free, even once,
if she’d been the one kept an arm extended since before
the Battle of the Little Bighorn—1876—the arm the path
for Eastern gray squirrels in flight from prey, she’d lower
her approximate arm, the quiver and an arrow-drawn bow.
Without heaven, wouldn’t you elect to step forth from the
excruciating grace of Oblivion that had served till then?
I should write at least one good book on lasting stillness.
What it takes to believe in the condition we call living.
Here’s something: Blood flow mimics drunkenness.
For me, it was intoxicating stepping onto the grass.
Dance-stumbling before that first falling in starlight.
2. Listening to “This Life” by Vampire Weekend
while Driving through Letcher County, Kentucky,
I’m Reminded of a Program on Avian Gut Bacteria
Road goldens this morning in the direction of Whitesburg.
I’m driving. On a radio, the DJ says Vampire Weekend
and I think, Well, that’s a lot of time with the undead.
As the song says, Baby, I know pain is as natural
as the rain. Earlier, on a PBS station, a researcher
explained bacterial genomes in vampire finch poop
are not the same in vampire bats. I don’t want to rain
on his carnival show, but aren’t all vampires, real
or fictional, a metaphor for the working class?
The blather about blood and Spirit and desecration
to the temple a human life is, finally. Not to mention
longing we imagine the dead acquire to walk again
in full sunlight. All the way to the Bentley Cemetery
at Neon Junction, pop songs make me think of someone
who entombs himself in needling through a bird’s gut.
I park and start walking. I’ve come to take pictures.
Pull weeds in the service of something like respect.
Up a hill, a moonrise of granite-gray shows against
the blue skyscape of morning-Kentucky staring back.
I won’t ever be laid to rest here, although I could be.
Enough rain has fallen around me I may belong here.
Gravediggers pierce the stony earth with a Ditch Witch.
Which they did for my grandmother—who we hauled up
this grade when it was iced-over grasses. Sliding, catching
ourselves as best we could, given the lack of good footing.
These aren’t rising any time soon. They lie here together
as if the gate that reads BENTLEY has summoned them
to receive the amity a grave on a hillside promises.
For years on the waterfront, the offloading of slave
cargoes was a perishing of mercy. This isn’t that.
Poe had come there to meet a woman. An overcoat
hand-fastened against the wind was missing buttons.
I want not to see another American city for what
it is, which is cruelly neutral to whether any of us
lives or perishes on a day like any other but colder.
The first accountings of his death were lies crafted
by an enemy, saying Baltimore had billeted another
famous poet who yielded to drugs and or drink as if
either is anything but hopelessness delayed, deferred.
Story goes, one stoop-shouldered man requisitioned
the coat, his shoes, while a second fed a hearth blaze
(in a mystery house) pages of a manuscript, paper
luffing like fur. I want to see Poe’s passing as him,
at least, being warmed by the fire from his pages.
…hope made wise by dread begins again…
—Frank Bidart, “Inauguration Day”
The inauguration of the President was on the tv
with the sound muted. And I was on the telephone.
All winter he’d talked of them, the twins, addressed
a birthday card Grandpa Dad; the card, Barack Obama
on the outside and a more subdued balloon-message
on the inside saying I wouldn’t be getting a present.
I was of two minds, as they say; he was jobless—
as I’d been when I found out he was coming—
but I was happy for him. Maybe a little scared.
He had phoned to tell me the temperature in Ohio,
wind-chill calculations. All I had was the newsflash
that Florida was 70 degrees and a Red State. My son
said the trees in the Midwest wore ice, the powerlines.
Said that stalactite ice cracked when the sun hit it. Fell.
The man telling us to dream of better and best outcomes
was being sworn in. I looked away. I pictured a deluge
of ice-shards. We find out today what they are, he said.
Meaning grainy ultrasounds would indicate a gender.
I looked at the inauguration on the tv—at Obama and
what was trying to pass for the disappearance of racism.
Roughly equivalent breath-balloons of the Chief Justice
and President-elect had twinned on a huge Jumbo Tron.
I’d wanted to avoid the usual It takes two to squeak by.
Maybe the better future is fear and a moment of hope.
Maybe that’s what hefts the weight of hopelessness.
I hung up and sent him money wrapped in a poem,
one I’d been failing at for some time now, years—
about seabirds and an ocean of time and Nothing,
about outcomes we can’t predict. Lives of chance
and the bicameral legislature of fathers and sons.
I was trying to hide the bills, but if you pressed
down on the envelope you’d still see currency.
5. Shakespeare Prone to Dalliances
This spring, on a restaurant-spinner: copies of POETRY.
In late-March, their butter-colored covers have found me.
I order a cheeseburger and fries. Sumatran coffee. Cream.
I pick up a copy of POETRY. The woman I’m with tells me
she respects poetry, the craft. She minored in Shakespeare.
On a wall-tv screen, disclosures about sexual harassment:
George Takei, helmsmen of the USS Enterprise, is being
accused of taking advantage of a male model, drugging
and groping a man who wanted to scream but couldn’t.
She doesn’t buy it. The accusations. Says to imagine
the headline: Shakespeare Prone to Dalliances.
I love being alive in the world, “the world” being […]
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Roy Bentley, a finalist for the Miller Williams prize for Walking with Eve in the Loved City, has published eight books; including American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press, who is bringing out a new & selected. 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. His poems have appeared in Cleaver, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, and Shenandoah among others. Hillbilly Guilt, his latest, won the Hidden River Arts / Willow Run Poetry Book Award and will appear next year.
Read More: A brief Q & A with Roy Bentley