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