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.

On Recollecting Our Parents In Tranquility: A Life Poem

Image of Roy Bentley's parents

As Much Ours as Not Ours

is an exhumation story my mother and I enjoy together,
a tale of my father’s unending prodigality regarding cars,
new and used, a passion, which she says kept them broke.
“And you went through the world shoeless,” my father says.
Prodded like this, he can defend the logic of his acquisitions
for hours. He leans in a doorway between the house and pool,
a Florida shirt blooming white blue red above his khaki shorts.
She is dealing a hand of solitaire, snapping the King of Hearts
between lines of cards I can’t make out from where I’m sitting.

They’re in their 60s. Happy as they will ever get, winter
breezes rippling the surface of one end of the pool. Waves
rebound beneath an enclosure curtained with bougainvillea.
The story of swapping a Mercury station wagon for a Cadillac,
the Cadillac for a ‘61 Impala with a shot-to-shit water pump,
has her glancing up to say I hated the Cadillac then smiling—
it’s Christmas—before snapping the next card, low to high.
Outside, bugs try the kingdom between nothing and light,
the ragged volley of trials aglow in his, and her, laughter.

Remembering Paul Newman In Donald Trump’s America

Image of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke

When Paul Newman Was Alive

All night, wind, a pelting of rain, then sump pump songs,
so that by morning I hear the clock of my life as off-then-on
machinery against the backdrop of August rain and everything
about being here now rounded off to the gold of first light in Ohio.
No one is out yet but a neighbor, who retrieves a New York Times
from a driveway. The asphalt is shining about the way it did then,
when Paul Newman was alive and the United States of America
was a good dream we were having about a country, this country.
If last night’s tempest was an army, divisions spent themselves
farther off in the east, over the shallow Licking River; beyond,
white lines of wood smoke emphatically rise into blue-black
like the prodigal smoke from cook fires in a Western movie.
My neighbor is at his door. He closes it, that door he lives
his life behind, as if one storm isn’t the end of the world.

Ku Klux Klan Freak Show in Canon City, 1925: Life Poem

Image of Ku Klux Klan in Canon City, 1925

Ku Klux Klan at the Carnival in Canon City, 1925

Klansmen in hooded regalia commandeer a Ferris wheel.
3 to a car, 12 cars. As if visionless hate, rabid nationalism,
and 1st Amendment freedoms share the same carnival ride.

And this isn’t the South. It’s any given Sunday in Colorado.
By an awninged ticket booth, a handful of white sheets loiter.
They’re looking this way as if someone had said, Say, Cheese.

These 40-odd men stare back at our staring as if it’s a nice day
and they have stopped talking Wall Street or Yankees baseball,
whether their wives and daughters should have the right to vote.

Of course there is the fallacy at the heart of democracy that says
when the mob does what it does, it’s right. By simple arithmetic.
A face is said to have hovered over the waters during the creation

of the world. God’s face. If truth were the light certain mornings,
this midway would be a burning cross opening a door in the air.
If an aubade is a morning love song, this Sunday sky isn’t one,

though the noise the Ferris wheel sends up approaches singing.
Factoring in the ubiquity of folly and the capitulation of the sad,
isn’t it always Assholes Get in Free Day somewhere in America?

Trump-Age American Life And Victorian-Era Madness

Victorian-era image linking train rides to mental illness

The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride
Could Cause Instant Insanity

Somewhere in Appalachia, a woman
is telling her oldest son not to strike back
at a fugitive father for having abandoned them.

The standard unit of pain is hers to call whatever
she wants since she wears the bruises like the son
wears Goodwill Levis and a t-shirt saying Tramps

Like Us, Baby, We Were Born to Run. The son isn’t
showcasing what he is, in his father’s cast-off t-shirt,
because Springsteen is the last word in Suffering. He

puts it on, the t-shirt, because what changes the way
we breathe is what we believe—though the Victorians
believed train rides could drive you mad. The riders

were rescuing themselves from the insanity of others
just by boarding. Just now, this one knots his leather-
and-scrap-wood tchotchke crucifix around his neck—

the cross is hollow and carries a powder they say
will kill you. I say what kills you isn’t the drug but
the hopelessness puts it there. Saying that, though,

is like floating on the wind through sainted hillsides
where row-house chimneys are censers distributing
God’s breath as coal smoke. The smoke is bruised

gold. It says how, even if there is no God and all
the days from Then to Now have handed us no
reason to hope, we still have a train to catch.

Inspired by an Atlas Obscura item linking Victorian-era train rides and mental illness.

Homeless Man in Central Florida Finds Body: Poem

Image of human skull

Homeless Man Reports a Dead Body
by Carrying a Skull into a Florida Publix

—Colin Wolf, Orlando Weekly
 
Imagine him in the act of crossing busy US 1,
a silver shopping cart to slow the murmuration.
See the heat shimmers above the road surface.
See a Maserati swerve. Hear a Bentley brake
hard enough to make the muscles of the heart
speed up. In no time, he is parking the object
on a trash can by a double-door to a Publix.
By the pink-flamingo-themed lottery posters.
Why did he take it? Maybe the eyes called up
long rows of tombstones. His own dear dead
or their histories. One witness says he used it,
the skull, like a hand puppet. One said it stank.
Which is why cruisers pull up and spill a cargo
of sheriffs in their Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses.
Later that day, another part of the neighborhood,
a van is parked in drifts and mangroves bordering
a strip club. Under night-marching moon and stars,
the doorjamb of the van hemorrhages arterial-red,
the factory-painted truth that this rough home
is limbed with death in the best of weather.

His Parents? Poor Kids from Eastern Kentucky: Life Poem

Image of "Men, Death, Lies," painting by Linda Holmes

The Bright and Unforgettable Scent of the Fruit

At 30, my father drove a Cadillac in all weather.
Seeds spat down onto the wax job of its black hood,
black being his preferred color in cars. And he owned

two Cadillacs, which he forfeited divorcing my mother
and selling Roy’s Shell, his gas station, though she saw
not one Lincoln-headed cent. For a man or woman then—
after the Cuban Missile Crisis, talk of bomb shelters—

the best thing about going broke was you had time.
Time to try and love again. To take a son for a walk.
And he took me on that walk. By a river in Dayton.

He said, Five rivers converge here. And named one
by a botanical gardens of flowers gemmy with rain.
He said, the Great Miami River. And then looked off
in the direction of where the bright and unforgettable

scent of the fruit of one orchard is the definition of loss.
On a bank of the Great Miami that day was a rotted boat.
And someone said every boat, new or old, is looking for

a place to sink. He said something similar, my father,
no fan of boats. Maybe he thought the boat we saw
was as useless as oars to row its gray decrepitude.
My parents were poor kids from eastern Kentucky.

Like any refugee, they had problems. Divorced.
Later, she went to work. In a factory. It was all
she could do. Working like that. But she did it

and survived. Meaning her face shown brighter
than anyone else standing over the shiny hood
of the next car he kept so spotless you could
see yourself in every black inch of it.

“Men, Death, Lies,” oil painting by Linda Holmes, © 2017 Linda Holmes. All rights reserved.

Childhood’s End: Life Poem On the Eve of Donald Trump

Image of Donald Trump as Time's Person of the Year

Childhood’s End

Back then, I followed my mother around
looking for approval and was shortchanged.
What is a life if not learning the difference
between enough and not nearly enough.

I recall that she had a hillbilly-simple rage.
Which, most often, she might aim at herself;
but, sometimes, at anyone nearby. And me.
I learned, later, that she’d been a hired girl

for a bed. Meals. Clearly, she was ashamed.
Still, she was proud of what she had learned.
That you overcome poverty, maybe anything,
by working for what is, always and repeatedly,

less than you need. A bedside table was books:
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and
scholarly works on the antebellum South. She
was born in Letcher County, Kentucky. After

the War of Northern Aggression, and Slavery.
She read to forget. We’d climb in the Chevy,
drive downtown. Into the city. To the library.
And she’d be patient (then less so) as I chose.

Maybe Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke.
Aliens have landed. Taken over. Have hooves,
horns, a reptilian tail. And attitude. Like my
mother who knew what it takes just to live.

Think It Can’t Happen Here? New Poem by Roy Bentley

Image of flag of American fascism

Black Transport

“Even a meadow in harvest with flights of crows and grass fires . . . can lead to a concentration camp.”
Night & Fog, 1955

The Germans who ran the trains
to the death camps
made sure they arrived
in night and fog—
they wanted the boxcar
cargo to disembark
in a state of confusion
so they would be easier
to manage. First, the lie
of resettlement. Then
the off-loading to camps
and the blue-striped uniform
of the doomed. Do you think
it can’t happen here? Do
you imagine you can
forever avoid such
black transport? Do
you trust countrymen
not to show you to a place
on a platform and say, Wait
here and point the machine gun
in the general direction of smoke
as it floats black then a gray-white
as quiet as the sheets on a clothesline.
It begins with respect for uniforms
and loaded guns. Then the fear
that what is happening
is our fault. Then those lies
we consent to in order to live
for a while longer, God help us.
It is already the case—isn’t it?—
that these amber waves hide bodies.

Epithalamium: A Southern Ohio Wedding Poem

Image of Bridge of Sighs in Southern Ohio
It is truly breathtaking, this man-takes-mate-and-
mate-then-takes-him-too stuff. And, sure, I tear up—
teardrop fountains at the vows, that hopeful poetry
spoken alongside abject awareness of the awful
because the job is to balance the bad with Joy.

And, sure, I understand why we need hope
to challenge despair—when you hope you hear
Time lecture on the epistemology of the grave
but don’t want to crawl into a grave. Hope
is the forests in Ohio, Hocking County,

and so: a plaited garland in a bride’s hair.
Some days, Time says, Watch what is passing.
And it says: take courage if, and while, you can—
even here where parking is bad and the hillside
tattooed with the markings of past treacheries.

Photo of Bridge of Sighs by Roy Bentley.

When the Emperor Has No Clothes: A Life Poem about Donald Trump, Revealed at Last, from the Buckeye State

Image of Donald Trump's emperor-has-no-clothes statue

Not Nothing

I wonder if it matters to a working man
figuring dimensions in August-Ohio heat,
doing the math and rounding off, this fence
and how easy it makes letting the dog out.
Because I don’t say any of that right off.
He says he had a stroke. Almost died.
After the epiphany of a recent brush
with death, he says, “Donald Trump
isn’t the asshole that we think he is.”
As if, by not quite dying, he tunneled
out of a warren of the Forgotten to say
what he says. Before that, he has said
death isn’t something as much as not
nothing. We’re standing in the yard.
And he thinks this is wisdom. Stuff
you don’t hear every day. But he is
here to estimate how much he will
charge to paint the backyard fence,
my fence. “Both sides?” he asks—
as if there are worlds where painting
one side is nothing, especially the side
of your choosing, a beacon of bare wood
visible in all directions. From streetside
or next door. He doesn’t flinch or smile,
but I’m sure he’s kidding. Waiting on him,
I had read an article on artificial intelligence.
And the whole sick run-off about Trump now
strikes me as funny. Until he launches into
what it’s like, or what he says he thinks it’s like,
on The Other Side—having recently passed over
the big-yikes Metaphysical Fence, not the one
for the US-Mexico border. That not nothing.
He thinks he is the only person who can speak
of what he has experienced as a living, breathing
Ohioan. I’m listening how I suppose a painted
fence listens to silence. Yes, both sides, I say.