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Sean Bentley

SeanBentley.jpgSean Bentley has published three collections: GRACE & DESOLATION (Cune Press 1996), INSTANCES (Confluence Press 1979), and INTO THE BRIGHT OASIS (Jawbone Press 1976). His poems have appeared in the The Cape Rock, Poet Lore, Crab Creek Review, Seattle Review, Third Coast Magazine, Painted Bride Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, Northwest Review, Poetry NOW, Bellingham Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Coe Review, Switched-on Gutenberg and many other magazines, and are forthcoming in Mudlark. His work has also appeared in the anthologies PAGE TO PAGE : RETROSPECTIVES OF WRITERS FROM THE SEATTLE REVIEW (Univ. of Washington Press), IRON COUNTRY (Copper Canyon), INTRO 6 (Doubleday), PONTOON 3 (Floating Bridge Press), ISLAND OF RIVERS (Pacific NW National Parks Assoc.), and DARKNESS AND LIGHT: PRIVATE WRITING AS ART (iUniverse). From 1982 to 2002 he coedited the poetry magazine Fine Madness and its retrospective anthology, MARCH HARES (2002). When not writing, he takes photographs; check out his blog at


As it is, you will easily perceive that I am one of the many uncounted victims
of the Imp of the Perverse.  — Poe

X insisted that a tree’s beauty lay
in its symmetry — was I just being
contrary to say otherwise? If so,
I’ve made a habit of it: socks
mismatched for thirty-odd years,
grooving to discordance in 7/8 time.

What is it that draws me
to the damp wrack on sunshot shores,
unhinged shack at the edge of a barren field,
the missed note unmaking the song, the unbalance
that speaks the charm of oddity? That imp

uproots the weed-slimed stone half-buried
at the beach to reveal the twitching crab,
and rootles for a stink to underlie each memory,
a shame or hurt or blunder decades past
stored away like modules of slugbait
on a spidery back shelf
to spread among the perennials.

Breaking the pattern of a hotel’s empty windows,
one displays far up a pair of trousers hung upside
down as if the wearer jumped straight out of them.
The image comes to me as quickly as
“laundry” comes to others, and I look down
for the body pancaked on the sidewalk.

Perhaps the world has caught up
with my dark vision, and all our minds’ eyes
now regularly see bodies past and future
on pavements, bullet-riddled because
so often they lie there in the present.
We see cracks in a façade and think “temblor,”
see the cirrus like a cottonwood puff
on the horizon and think “squall,”
can’t see a valentine dust-drawn on a pane
and unsee the brief fiery trajectory
that followed another, elsewhere, long ago.

Each night we look into stars:
as dim as they seem, the imp waits for one
to flare and fall.


“Seeing Satan in the smoke of a burning building slips from pareidolia to apophenia when the viewer starts thinking that Satan is giving the world a sign that he is alive and well.” — Robert Todd Caroll

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.”
— Joseph Heller, Catch-22

I’m being watched. They (capital T) lurked
in the swirls of the mid-mod lino
in my folks’ bathroom, squinting
sidelong at me as I sat on the can:
swarthy gents with unruly hair,
visages fiercely planed, torsos
sinking back into bluegreen clouds
like some god’s forgotten body.

Everyone’s seen a minimal face
in the screws of a coat-hook,
or hooded dormer eyes
above a door’s pursed lips.
I’m scrutinized also from the folds
of sheets, shadow and angle suggestive
of an ogreish phiz, amorphous manbeast
keeping watch, enveloping me.

Everyone’s seen cloud shapes,
mountain peak profiles
or hilly waists and hips.
I spot skullish eyeholes and grin askew
in water’s fluctuations, fir-bough
cameos animated as figures
your hand might make against a light.
Is it duck or rabbit?

The beach too is a fine and public
place as filled with phantoms
as a necropolis: boulders’ eroded sockets,
whole logs studded with knot-holes or
perfect worm-drilled Os for mouths,
stubby snouts of snapped branch
over barnacle fangs.

Sinuous ficus trunks assume human limbs
mythic and faerie. What a shock
to find an actual face carved
in a garden oak: the Green Man
boding fertile luck or warding off ill.
Our fears and our obsessions
demand action. Someone
reified their vision with an axe
or knife – no longer imagination,
yes we are being watched.

The belief that someone is
out to get us, our jobs, our
lives, we believe so hard we make it so.
Some of us buy guns to stop others
who have bought guns to stop others,
whose spirits may be ill or, for all we know, good
(ask questions later): those who watch us
— neighbors, government, our enemies, or
those not yet our enemies,
who we’ll make enemies
by watching them, by seeing them
everywhere. We see

what we want to see or don’t.
We even see what
is, but our devilish minds remind
us, bring us back and inward
to our swirling mental floor.
The schizophrenic conjures
a convincing but false truth.
Magicians make us believe
what they’ve shown us. The pious
see Jesus in their toast.

Given our suggestible brains,
it’s easy to spin and shade reality
to sway each other. How easy
it is to convince. I saw a UFO.
An oasis is just over the next dune.
Paul is dead. Jews
secretly rule the world.
News is fake.

Appearances do deceive, or at least
don’t hint at the whole story:
the jovial teacher turns out
to be a raving bully. The DIY furniture
does not match the instructions.
The map is not the territory, trees
not the forest with its deadfalls
and cougars and quicksand oh my.
That aloof, snobbish guy is
merely timid. The placid, boring neighbor’s
garage bulges with machineguns.

It’s enough to make anyone
(well, some of us) paranoid,
leave the doorbell unanswered, look
sidelong at anyone who doesn’t seem like
you. We see malign brown faces
infesting the clouds our heads are in,
there with all the other flimsy
shapes, evanescent, nebulous.

Like the carven Green Man, just because
you’ve imagined someone out there
doesn’t mean they’re not.
But neither does it mean
they are. Let us be
instead astonished.
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