The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Roy Bentley

Jim Morrison & The Doors in Miami, 1969

 

Morrison performs a series of affable pats to a cushion

on a backstage sofa. This, to signal the next woman who

loves without hope. If you sport a stiffy for all Creation,

sooner or later, you take it out. Wave it at butterfingered

fandom. Before the show, a woman makes zipper noises,

emancipates him from the infamous leather pants. Which

he steps out of. Manzarek, the organist, bangs to be let in

 

and a joke about “organ parts” comes to mind. Morrison

elects to rediscover the orthodoxies of a Marlboro. First,

he thumbs a lighter wheel. Then, a hand positions flame

to the tip-end of the cigarette. Zigzags of smoke become

fog-wreathed rollercoaster curves then gray boutonnieres.

This woman, his Florida guide, is from Ohio. And maybe

Miss Ohio thinks, What’s one more fall between acrobats?

 

Jim Morrison isn’t looking for a future with a house. Kids.

Membership in Cougar Octagon Optimist Club of Dayton.

Meaning, to him, the Buckeye State might as well be Mars.

He shakes his hair. Certain lighting adores a mane of hair.

This March night, the air is an atomization of discontent.

And so he wonders if some Invisible Man in the Sky,

high above the strongbox that is America, fantasizes

 

stepping out of Paradise. Maybe needs a little time or

maybe to see if the revenant flesh ever gets to be a bore.

And not just to wheedle a welcome-back trumpet fanfare.

A eucharist of blotter LSD is bringing on the color wheel,

rainbowing the upturned face of the woman holding him.

And he smiles. Generations of dead know that smile

as reminiscent of fire shoveled by envious angels.

 

 

Roy Bentley

White Cane Lying in the Gutter in the Lane

                                  --Neil Young, "Don't Let It Bring You Down," After the Gold Rush

 

Okay, so it’s 1970. October. The new Neil Young album

has come out. I’m holding my copy, the night-black record

minus the sleeve and jacket—holding it like I’ve been taught

by my audiophile father. One of those use-the-coaster guys.

A bastard. Not in the sense of being a cruel man, not yet,

but raised without a father. Poor. And in the Army at 16.

He’s someone who doesn’t waste much. And he’s said,

“Hold a record by its edges” and I didn’t—after—and

got bawled out. So it’s something I do. Even stoned.

Sixteen years old, I’m tripping. Carrying After the

Gold Rush by its edges to a turntable. I will need,

soon, an unswerving voice to track for a few hours.

 

By the seventh cut of the album, my white bedspread—

an advertisement white-white J.C. Penney chenille one—

is transmuting. First, into a python. Then, a man’s cane.

Now the cane writhes in and through the transparent air

of Ohio, this after the shooting at Kent State that May.

I see the cosmos in that snake-cane. Feel electricity.

A tremor that, then, trips up the spine. And outward.

I hear Neil Young saying I am not to let it, the mess

of the world, bring me down. As if anyone has his

or her shit together like that: enough to just smile

and let time be compressed into a spiritual spiral

galaxy that spins in and through blind America.

 

 

Roy Bentley

"Gene Autry Lets Little Champion Ride First Class, 1948"

                                                                --a photograph by William C. Eckenberg

 

Autry is in full regalia: white Stetson cowboy hat, white

neckerchief and pearl-buttoned white Western-style shirt.

The black blazer and black slacks are clearly last-minute.

 

The singing-star has Little Champion, a blaze-faced colt,

beside him in a taxi. A uniformed man, chevrons on a sleeve,

an official-looking badge, holds open the door. And we see

 

the horse is fine. If nineteen forty-eight is a Wild West Show,

it is a Wild West Show at a sold-out Madison Square Garden,

a pay day to recall in moments of deep self-doubt. Exiting

 

the taxi, Little Champion translates all the fuss to excrescence,

which just misses Autry’s hand-stitched Italian cowboy boots.

Gene sidesteps the shit as if the job of every Good American

 

is to overlook distractions from appreciating an enviable life,

as if grace and timing trump everything. His six-shooters cool

in a briefcase on the floor of the front seat; a holstered copy

 

of the Daily Racing Form is visible in the pocket of the blazer.

After an extra show at Bellevue Hospital, for crippled children,

our hero walks to the nearest tavern. Drinks dinner. So what,

 

if he does. So what if Wrigley Gum, a sponsor, knows his days

as a star are numbered. Gene Autry may live to be 91 and die

worth millions. If he’s lucky, and he is, anything can happen.

 

 

 

ROY BENTLEY is the author of Starlight Taxi (Lynx House: 2013), which won the 2012 Blue Lynx Poetry Prize. Books include The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine: 2006), which was the winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize in 2005, Any One Man (Bottom Dog Books: 1992), and Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama: 1986), which won the 1985 University of Alabama Press Poetry Series. Recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the NEA, six Ohio Arts Council fellowships, and a Florida Division of Cultural Affairs fellowship, his poems have appeared in the Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Rattle, Blackbird and elsewhere.

 

 

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