by Roy Bentley
On Leave before My Discharge from the Air Force
That’s Ohio in the background: dark handsome streets,
the houses with lights on and decorated by OSU banners.
That’s my emerald-green Firebird pulling out of Louie’s
Pizza Parlor. And that’s Ralph C. Hupp riding shotgun
and handing me the slice of everything-but-anchovies.
Ralph is content as the Independence Day fireworks
explode near where Walt Disney has bought property,
teasing Buckeye Lake with plans to build a theme park.
This is the small Ohio town where I learned to hate and
hold forth about sin and a God of mercy. Nonetheless,
on any given night, some part of America is gorgeous.
Ralph is reading 8-track labels. Slides in The Stones,
Let It Bleed. Now, Keith Richards begins punishing
nineteen seventy-four like that loved stranger who
pleaded to be handcuffed to the bed. Fucked silly.
That’s me, driving. Rolling down a window while
Mick croons, You can’t always get what you want.
What do I want? Never to wear a uniform again.
I’m thinking of this one in her early thirties
and fresh from having a second child, young
and wanting out of a bad, loveless marriage. There
were lots of us like that: exhausted by circumstance
midway through lives. Didn’t the painter Paul Gauguin
say if you want to be happy that you should fall in love?
Forgive me, I’ve had to say, and on more than one occasion,
to this good woman who once, and in some haste, ardently
hiked up a black, billowing skirt and proceeded to bed me
on a picnic-table-top under budding oaks in a public park.
Now look at us. We blinked and raised five adult children;
the years disappeared; after which, according to the pundits,
Humanity is miserable, sad. Awash in the usual hypocrisies
where the planet is concerned. In the pandemic, both of us
retired, I reconsider the park. How she thought ahead and
left off anything resembling underwear. I recall our being
shaded, shadowed. The way she satisfied herself: forward
thrusting, again and again: long slow sweet hot-wet kisses
as if Desire and Pleasure have a place in a life, and Will,
and I’m, like, I’m unsure what you’re doing but do That.
This is the memory I hold to when rain and wind pound
our Ohio house, and America wants what it wants of us.
Poem for Rowan Arthur
My grandson Rowan likes it when I faux-growl
on FaceTime. I guess with the mane of hair I’ve grown
in the pandemic it seems an ancient-looking lion is speaking
with Eric Clapton’s “Bell Bottom Blues” spinning behind him.
A doctor of the lungs is a pulmonologist, I may tell him someday.
That my lion-roar is possible because we breathe, beginning deep
inside the darkness of the body. I’ll spare him the history lesson
about William Wells and research in the nineteen-thirties on
how far Balantidium coli travel in an airspace, though
he was born in a pandemic when how healthy lungs work
and pathogen-variants travel became eulogy. Maybe I can
spare him how some of the parts of a life make us want to die.
I may change the topic if he’s listening to what constitutes The
Good Life and toss in a little Aristotle to look intelligent to him.
I won’t explain the Greeks since he’ll have wandered off; toddling,
a kid-sized football in hand, coaxing imaginings of stardom in the NFL.
Maybe I’ll switch to the philosophy in some rock ‘n roll songs or maybe
let him hear for himself just why Beauty is such an individual imperative.
I won’t get far telling him undertakers ran out of caskets, in some places,
the year he was born. A year there was no escaping the air that we share.
I’ll echo what Clapton says, resounding that I don’t want to fade away.
Maybe growl like I know more than I do about being here and alive.
About the author:
Roy Bentley is the author of Walking with Eve in the Loved City, chosen by Billy Collins as finalist for the Miller Williams poetry prize; Starlight Taxi, winner of the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize; The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana, chosen by John Gallaher as winner of the White Pine Poetry Prize; as well as My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems 1986 – 2020 published by Lost Horse Press. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Rattle, The Louisville Review, Shenandoah, New Ohio Review, and Prairie Schooner among others. His latest is Beautiful Plenty (Main Street Rag, 2021).