Poem by Roy Bentley: James Dean Commemorative Mug

Image of James Dean, start of the movie East of Eden

James Dean was driving his new Porsche to a car race when he crashed—literally East of Eden—on a back road to Salinas, California, site of the 1955 movie that made him famous and the weekend event that made him dead. Sixty years later, Roy Bentley ponders the irony of Dean’s death and its aftermath in a poem that suits the East of Eden star to a made-in-China T.

James Dean Commemorative Mug

I’d begin with the stamped instruction not to microwave
and the all-caps MADE IN CHINA messaging,

the glaze over the decal of the brooding movie star
who shot a Public Service Announcement

for safe driving then ended up a traffic statistic.
The cup makes me ask what else is detritus

bobbing against the current. Holding the gift-mug,
I consider the difference between the doomed—

those who climb into the Spyder Porsche death car
with a wish to flame to ash—and the vanishing

and coming back to vanish at last that is a life. Time
is cenotaph and memorial for a soil scent

that rises, post-rainfall, in the dark before morning
on summer farms in Salinas, California—

the image on the mug is from East of Eden, Dean
in a sweater on a boxcar roof, huddled,

shivering against the chill. Because, face it,
when are we ever in the right clothes?


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. All the contradictions inherent in living and what we’re known for may be something barely tangential to the focus and thrust of our lives. All this, with the heart of poet, Roy Bentley who shows us suffering and wonder in each poem. Another fine offering from Roy and Steinbeck Now. Thanks, Will Ray!

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