Nosferatu in “The Grapes of Wrath”

By Roy Bentley

You didn’t see them? Each time some union buster
whacked a guy upside the head with an ax handle
or put a .45 slug in a heart that beat not just to beat,
they were there, triaging the soon-to-die into Worthy
and Most Worthy, because what are the Undead
but the pissed-off living come back for revenge?

The waitress who can’t get her arithmetic right,
Mae, in the instant she favors those who want but
can never have—she’s one. Those truckers know it.
They recognize the one or two who walk in the light
as something special. They’re reverential as jalopies
whizz by outside on Route 66 like a species of crow.

What is Ma Joad feeding the hungry with? Nothing.
The same Nothing workers can figure to be handed
after hellish hours. Only the dead can live on nothing.
When Tom says windfall peaches will keep you up,
it’s the sort of encrypted speech Spirits use to say
we take sustenance where we find it, regardless.

What is Rose of Sharon giving birth to if it isn’t
Spirit? Ma Joad is there, the weary men watching,
the ghost of her brother Tom—for what is godliness
but what we mean when we say One Who Watches?
How blatant does Steinbeck need to be to show us
that a delivery in a flood is life refusing to yield?

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.

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