The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Roy Bentley

American Loneliness

 

                  "And if it were a painting or a photo
                  you would call it American loneliness."
                            —Alicia Ostriker, "Biking to the George Washington Bridge"

 

 

Appalachian kids are apprenticed to violence.

And to loneliness. Neither of which they master.

Loneliness is the heart shorn of all astonishment.

These are the people who breathe rivers silting up

with disenchantment and early death and funerals.

 

My slain uncles intended the world only as much

harm as it, the world, intended them. Were feared.

Their younger sister Nettie, my mother, is like that.

Today, she hair-drags a neighbor from her duplex.

Says she didn’t quote appreciate her tone unquote.

 

My mother is comfortable with fury. She accepts it.

Like she accepted the contents of the pockets of her

dead brothers, miscellanea handed her in a morgue.

She is a woman who does not defer readily to men.

Which is to say: if she prayed, she might call God

 

a motherfucker. She surely doesn’t expect favors.

And, today, beating her neighbor, she is mourning

murdered sons of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

With every just yell for help! crossing the grasses,

she’s settling an old score with having been born.

 

 

Roy Bentley

There Seemed to Be No Safer Direction to Be Heading than Home

 

                              —Philip Norman, John Lennon: The Life

 

Lennon may have thought that before being shot to death—

that there was no safer direction to be heading than home.

 

If any life can be a meta-cliffhanger, his had surely been.

Now, the hour was about to be an act of black-hat ferocity,

 

an ouroboros wherein the snake swallows not just a world

but a rags-to-riches dream the world is having about itself.

 

David Geffen had called the studio to say Double Fantasy

had gone gold. Which was terrific. Sure. But he was happy

 

and had the Green Card to say he was welcome in America.

The biographer says what Yoko told him: that John Lennon

 

got into a car from the Record Plant to the Dakotas because

his 5-year-old, Sean, needed his kiss and a word before bed.

 

Who’s to say John wasn’t thinking that all you need is love

and a gold record and maybe a great partner like Yoko Ono

 

when he climbed from the limo and into the path of bullets

which then said what bullets say and Welcome to America.

 

 

Roy Bentley

Letter from Eastern State Hospital, 1957

 

Her brother, D.V. Bentley, a doctor, arranged the commitment

for the misdemeanor offense of aiming and firing a .45 at a man,

my grandfather, Bob Beach, who abandoned her after promises.

 

The story is: she stayed angry, murderously so, for years after.

Twenty years—give or take a couple of months—behind walls.

The letter was signed Very truly yours by Logan Gragg, M.D.

 

Forget that 1957 was a boom year for everyone in Kentucky.

Forget long trains of coal from holes in the heart of the place.

Whatever they did to Susan Bentley there, my first memory

 

of my grandmother is of a woman so enraged she faced off

a child, gathering her arms against her bosom, saying, What 

in the hell are you looking at, you little son of a bitch? We

 

were driving her back to the sanitarium. Neon to Lexington.

Maybe she didn’t like that her son, my father, was guardian. 

Maybe she hated that her hair—blue-black as a seam of coal,

 

shiny as the Big Sandy River when she went in to the hospital—

had turned the same gray as roadside snow. Whatever the case, 

she turned her whole body at once. Like a statue on its plinth.

 

He kept the letter in an envelope with 6-cent Eisenhower

stamps—my father who expired in my arms, sliding down

into sheets the color of that ancient patient-history letter.

 

 

Roy Bentley

Plastics

 

A foreman in charge of New Hires showed me around.

I recall he was fat and carried a clipboard he set aside

and he rolled up his shirtsleeves and knelt to show me

what to do. I recall the forearm with a swastika tattoo,

the other shoulder arm forearm tensing at hammerfall.

All morning I chisel-chipped at resinous factory floor.

Cursed the tunnel of summer heat at the plastics plant.

 

I knew about Ben Braddock, the neighbor in a suit—

a tall man with a fresh haircut and a martini in hand—

arrowing the phrase, A word about your future, Ben?

This was grunt-shitwork for non-union employment.

Structurlite Plastics was closed, the full-timers off.

My mom worked 3rd shift. Presses and Production.

Said she put in a good word. Batted her eye lashes.

 

Maybe she had to withstand the heat of a full stare

from someone who concealed most of who he was

like wearing long sleeves in June to mask a tattoo.

If I know my mom, she asked then acted contrite

as if something was off with the count that day.

Whatever she did, I got the job removing resin

from a floor at a factory that made hard hats.

 

Shards of disintegrate shot into my face.

I got hit in the eye, petitioned for goggles,

and went back to work. I didn’t know yet

there was that much misery in the world.

Then I said I needed a jackhammer. Help.

Clipboard Carrier shot back, Jackhammer?

Why would I want that if I’ve got you?

 

 

Roy Bentley

Roy Donovan & Dog

 

It isn’t his dog, it’s his wife Abby’s. She’s named it Dog.

The Dogo Argentino is also called the Argentinian Mastiff

or Argentine Dogo. It is a large, well-muscled dog. The deep-set

 

chest is wide. There is an abundance of skin on the muscled neck.

Abby Donovan’s rescue mutt Dog—like Ray—is a fugitive again.

Ray’s black Benz CLS 550 is parked, and so Dog hangs its head

 

out the window to lap up a fugitive California-summer breeze.

Ray is on his phone, straightening out the fact Shit travels.

We overhear: You want me to get creative on your ass?

 

I want a dog named Dog and a protector like Ray Donovan.

See Ray shove the slayer-priest into the posh trunk of his Benz.

See Ray honing his move-and-shoot skills on the Armenian Mob,

 

though getting shot may make him late for dinner with the family.

See Ray let out a low sob-become-a-howl because his daughter

Bridget can never know the Whole Story. See Ray's Irish wife

 

rescue herself and Ray (and, by extension, Dog) from a hitman

whose dying wish may have been at least one chimera of a wife

who is learning, on the run, what it takes after hope hits the road.

 

 

 

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

 

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