Mothers of Invention: New Life Poem by Roy Bentley

Image of women working in German factory

The Fan

They are coming out of the factory walls—
those who might like to take her upright fan.
Hard young women winging through the hanging
strips, the rubber talons moving on conveyors.
And not all black women, but the one who
takes hold of it, claiming its positioning
in the air-freighted heat—she’s black.
And at least as fierce as my mother is,
or so my mother tells the story everafter.
Since she is from Neon, Kentucky, Nettie,
my divorced mother, the n-word starts flying.
And they set a time to meet to settle things.
After the shift. In the Inland parking lot.
And the other women show up to witness
the fireworks of a pissed-off Womanhood
this scorching August, their vulturey heads
bobbing as if to say Fuck her up! and Show her
who’s boss! to the American capitalist enterprise.
Which every night feeds on fear of depredation
until the sun unleashes its talons of gold and
red then even more gold, spiking morning
machine noises with pugilistic talk and
the threat of worse. My abandoned mother
kept the fan and she kept it blowing its fixed
or oscillating breezes her way that summer.
She had the job because ex-brother-in-law
William “Big Bill” Hensley was president
of the United Autos Workers Local 696—
Bill adored Mother, and called her Nettie
Dolores whenever he stopped by the house,
a brick 3-bedroom house my father left her
to pay for. And so she didn’t have to fight,
didn’t have to call the other woman names
and eventually reach in and get her a handful
of afro, though she would have. Instead, Nettie
Potter Bentley said she would requisition two fans.
One to blow away constant sweat from having
to cut and hang and send on the rubber strips
for 1964’s General Motors cars and trucks.
One to blow away the heat of resentment.

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. Roy, it made me think of these passages from Neruuda’s great poen “A Dead Woman” –

    For where a man has no voice,
    there, my voice.

    Where blacks are beaten,
    I cannot be dead.
    When my brothers go to prison
    I shall go with them.

    When victory,
    not my victory,
    but the great victory comes,
    even though I am mute I must speak;
    I shall see it come even
    though I am blind.

  2. Roy Bentley says:

    Thank you, Steve. And congratulations on your book Steinbeck: The Untold Stories.

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