Roy Bentley’s poems have been widely published over the years, notably in Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, Rattle, The Southern Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council. His fifth book, Walking with Eve in the Loved City, was a finalist for the Miller Williams Poetry Prize selected by series editor Billy Collins. A new collection, American Loneliness, is available from Lost Horse Press.
There is a direct correlation between piles of shells and piles of corpses.
—General Matthew B. Ridgway
My father was forward observer for an artillery battery in Korea.
He used to say he shaved for the first time in a foxhole in winter.
Told us those years were nothing like a Hollywood war movie.
And when it was over, they disembarked from the troop ship.
Stepped onto the dock with more burdens than a duffel bag
can hope to contain. What treachery to, then, be betrayed
by a wife who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) wait. A generation
no more (or less) disposable than any former generation
and no less surrendered to the cult of God and Country.
I overheard him telling this to my mother. Parts of it.
He had been married, he said. Divorced her for cause.
She was pregnant and a child-to-come couldn’t be his.
We were visiting relatives who set up a cot at the foot
of the roll-away bed. Before sleep, I listened and saw
155- or 105-millimeter shells flying at stick figures—
the stick figures lifted up, their body parts on fire and
trailing smoke through the whiteness of Korean winter.
I pictured the fields and villages being shelled, families
of wounded screaming in pain. I was learning that men
have good reasons for having done unthinkable things.
I couldn’t yet imagine women have their reasons, too.
My father handed me a shovel in falling snow.
He said, Here, punk—he called me that: Punk.
I started clearing one end of a Shell station lot.
Dayton, Ohio in winter can be cold as the hell
some speak of when they mix their metaphors.
I shoveled a small, heart-shaped world in snow
below script-neon signage repeating Roy’s Shell
I knew to expect Get inside. Get your ass in here
Into the warm cloud of humming overhead lights,
the cathedral of loud-voiced men from Kentucky
and Virginia come north to Ohio to feed families.
My father called one or two of his workers Punk.
He left me outside, shoveling. I got cold. Then
I couldn’t feel the cold. Then either of my hands.
And my pops got scared. Took me to a hospital.
An Emergency Room doctor diagnosed frostbite.
Not serious but bad enough he wagged his finger
at my father. Patted my hands. These will heal,
the doctor said, talking like men do sometimes
to tell other men that the world will be watching.
To serve notice they aren’t going to look away.