Diagnosis in New Jersey: Dramatic Poetry by Roy Bentley about the Gift of Life

Image of spring rain in New Jersey


I have two messages I’ve been keeping on my iPhone.
One is my urologist reporting results of a recent biopsy.
In his best upbeat patter, and using words like benign,
he says I don’t have cancer. The other one is my father:
he’s been to a hospital, been given two units of blood.
Says he feels better. Two months before his death,
but he sounds thrilled. And says, Love you much
as if wanting there to be no doubt he means it.

If we know certainty to be a dollop of sun rising
in the east over the Jersey Shore over-55 housing,
then what yellows a neighbor’s windows to the west
is its opposite. Dawn reflected isn’t dawn. Italians
in the Garden State have a word for false: fugazi.
The Urban Dictionary: Get that fugazi ass jersey
outta here that shit ain’t official. That shit look
mad fugazi. And so “fugazi”—“isn’t genuine”—

is echoed light trying to pass for dawn-in-the-east.
My father’s cancer wasn’t fugazi cancer. It was real.
To be certain of something—cancer, what constitutes
genuine, full-on sunrise—is to suppose proof assailing
evidence to the contrary. If you ask me, Is there a God?
I’m certain of this: I was on my knees once in Ohio.
We were down to Not Too Much, my wife and I,
both in our 60s. I knelt, prayed. Wound up

at a Catholic college run by the Sisters of Mercy.
Housed in rooms in—wait for it!—Mercy Hall.
And if you ask why this told me we’re spirits,
I can say I’m driving New Jersey 539 past
the sheltering woods after rain. I can add
I’m playing the two messages, the one
that mercy is time to scent the earth
after rain and learn the word for it.

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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