People Who Have Nothing: Poem by Roy Bentley

Image of Bentley brothers family photo from Eastern Kentucky

People Who Have Nothing

It’s like they’ve had an epidural to the heart,
those with less than what’s needed, those who
feel that awful ache to set want aside for a while
like someone struggling to speak only good
of the dead who has to search for a word
for selfish, a tactful adjective that shines;
and, in doing that bit of magic, confesses

that love, for any human, takes practice.
When we visited eastern Kentucky, drove
from Ohio to the row houses of our family
who had chosen not to follow the exodus north,
I saw less as the house without a furnace
or serviceable linoleum in the kitchen.
I watched those with nothing make biscuits

of flour and what’s at hand. Tasted
how their occultations melted in the mouth.
In winter, a sorrowful splendor of coal smoke
storied the air above row houses in a town where
no one was christened White and yet the place
was named Whitesburg or mud-shiny Neon
which repaid no radiance. In all weather,

want shuffled to a metal folding table
to fashion a hand-rolled cigarette
and smoke and lean back and laugh—
as if life is good if there’s enough tobacco
and talk of Reds baseball or a Mason jar
delivered from hand to hand to adulterate
most, if not all, of the smaller infelicities.

Family photo of the poet’s father Roy Bentley, Sr., and his uncle Bill Potter courtesy of the author.

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. Stephen Conley, PhD says:

    As a fellow Hillbilly, this is one of my favorites by Roy Bentley. Thanks for continuing to publish his powerful pieces. He captures so many emotions and images that take away my breath!

  2. Linda P. Whitt says:

    I have leaned back and laughed at that table…as good a memory as any. Thank you for taking me there again.

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