Our Possible Other Lives

By Roy Bentley

In one of those my parents don’t meet.
One of them doesn’t leave Kentucky for Ohio,
and their chance street-corner collision in Dayton
is the same primal scream of car traffic but without
all that genuine shock of recognition exchanged.
Maybe my mother had met a man for pie
and was leaving the drugstore soda fountain
when another man, Bobby Burns, back from Korea,
stopped her in front of the theater in Neon, Kentucky
and said that the Fleming-Neon Pirates, the varsity
football team, called to mind a case of hemorrhoids,
which made her grin and answer Yes, Bobby, I’m free
to an invitation to see a movie that night at the Neon.
And maybe the kisses lack something, but she’s tired.

In that life, they marry and I’m born in Kentucky—
or Bobby Burns reads a story in The Mountain Eagle
and says the word Cincinnati like it was the shibboleth
he thought he needed to open the Temple of Dream.
Either way, my mother is in Ohio. My father, too.
Maybe my mother is somewhere buying a novel,
something to read herself to sleep, and so chooses
a big book, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
And so they meet in the street and start something
romantic between them because Bobby Burns
“was no Romeo,” or so she might have explained.
Whatever the case, I’d have been my mother’s son.
The firstborn of a woman denied too much for far
too long not to want everything, and then get it.

For Kate Fox

Roy Bentley About Roy Bentley

Roy Bentley is the author of Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama Press), Any One Man (Bottom Dog Books), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine Press), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House Press). A new book, Walking with Eve in the Loved City, has been selected by Billy Collins as a finalist for the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize and will be publlshed in the spring of 2018 by the University of Arkansas Press. Work from that collection has appeared in Shenandoah, Pleiades, Rattle, Blackbird, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.


  1. Mary M. Brown says:

    Great poem. Thanks!

  2. Of course, I love this poem….for obvious reasons.

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