Three Poems by Roy Bentley

Listening to "This Life" by Vampire Weekend
while Driving through Letcher County, Kentucky,
I'm Reminded of an Article on Avian Gut Bacteria

Road goldens this morning in the direction of Whitesburg. 
On the radio, I hear the DJ say the phrase Vampire Weekend
and I think, Isn’t a weekend a lot of time with the undead?

The song says, Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain.
Plenty in the hills know the truth of that. It's not a shit-song.
Yesterday, in an article, some PhD who knows avian gut

bacteria published his research: When Dr. Song’s team
compared the bacterial genomes in vampire finch poop
to the bacteria in the guts of vampire bats, they found

few similarities. But as the team showed in their paper,
the two gut microbiomes did have one ingredient in
common that could help in digesting blood: high levels

of Peptostreptococcaceae… I’m sorry. I don’t want to
cast a pall on this vampire-finch-carnival-show, but aren’t 
vampires a metaphor for the working class? The blather

about blood and Spirit and desecrations of the temple
a human life is, finally? Not to mention all the longing 
we imagine that the dead have to walk again in sunlight.
It’s night now. All day I’ve thought of someone buried
in needling through, for years, the contents of a bird's gut.
I suppose a vampire is the secular-humanist best answer 

to the religious zealots killing untold numbers of people
in response to all the determined striving as coyotes howl
at the full moon, now, outside my window. White against 

the skyscape, pupil-of-the-eye black night staring back.

Mountain Doctor & Apothecary

To be sick is to grow smaller
in a land of giants. To diminish.
DV Bentley knows this. He has been
rich. Or rich by any Kentucky standard.
Now he is both a doctor and a patient—

his white hospital gown gusts open
in back as he walks to the bed. The iv 
drip makes droplet noises like summer 
rain ending. He knows about endings,
having crisscrossed Letcher County

on horseback before automobiles
then in Fords with rumble seats.
If you asked him if death
and dying are sad, a tragedy,
he’d look at you like stupid was

the least of your troubles. Or say,
“I’ll tell you what’s sad, stranger”—
and shake his head, remembering
to be courteous and polite to Yankees
and fools, bless their little hearts.

The Soldier Turned Mechanic Turned Civil Servant
Asks His Son What He Wants to Be When He Grows Up

The only time I’d seen Uncle Doc, I was getting a shot for
the bug I had picked up on the Greyhound bus from Dayton
to Fleming-Neon. I was five then and had a ragged cough.

He listened to my chest. After, said something to a nurse
who left the room as he was handing me a half-dollar.
A Walking Liberty, the warm coin huge in my palm.

I took it. Thanked him. Then DV—Uncle Doc, which
was what he had said to call him—left off doctoring.
He stood before me in a starched shirt, suspenders;

a suit jacket hung by an office door; shoes sparkled.
Rimless spectacles returned the lights of the room.
The nurse came back. I was getting an injection,

which was why the Walking Liberty. Years later, 
asked what I wanted to be, I blurted out—A doctor.
I remember the shot wasn’t anything. And of course

I was clueless about the rifts of conscience my father
suffered after the battles where his job was pounding
those souls pouring across the Yalu River to kill him.

What I said mattered. Whatever world we’d manage 
to build together after would be of equal parts rage 
and remorse. But, for the moment, I had pleased him.

Roy Bentley, finalist for the Miller Williams prize for his book Walking with Eve in the Loved City, is the author of seven books of poetry; including, most recently, My Mother’s Red Ford, New and Selected Poems (1986-2019), Lost Horse Press, released in fall, 2020. He has published poetry in december, The Southern Review, New Letters, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, and Rattle among others.

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