What We Mean When We Use Words Like “Love”

roy bentley

1. What My Daughter Texts Me from Embassy Housing


First, that the food is good in the airport in Tokyo.

Then that she is glad to be on the ground in Manila.


I tell her that I’m putting her in a poem: for traveling

far from Ohio. I type and send the alligator-emoticon


since her nickname is Gator. She sends Open Mouth

and Guffawing to the Point of Tears: she’s laughing.


It’s not much of a leap, on any given day, however,

to picturing her getting her throat opened—even if


she’s tough, a warrior like her Appalachian granny,

my mother Nettie, who I had watched fight when


I was a boy. And, again, after I was a grown man.

Still, I’m down on my knees at bedside, praying


for peace and for her to be permitted to practice

Tagalog and appreciate words like undemocratic.



2. Luckee Avenue


On the street tagged to a misspelling of lucky they started

over and my father was, thus, returned to my sisters and me.


And to my mother with a storm cloud of earned resentments.

See that grayed phone pole in the backyard where we buried


Charlie?—or my father buried him on his best day as a father.

See the backyard patio with the white-aluminum Sears awning?


See the strip of asphalt?—that’s my mother’s red ’64 Galaxie

in the drive: the car my mother bought with her own money.


Money earned from union-wage shift work in Dayton, Ohio

after my father left. Those were years they wanted to forget,


but she made him keep the car: a reminder that she could do

this with or without him. Which must have worked because


we kept the car, after, and my father washed and waxed it.

Her Car, he would call it. Something extra in his voice.



3.  Along the Hocking River by the C & O Railroad Bridge

for Jim Wallace


It’s been forever. You’re dead and I’m not far behind.

But that October day, sycamore branches shadowing,


you were talking sports. Then you stopped and stood,

Lincoln-like, as if the approximation of man-standing-


alone-and-before-all-God’s-creatures—a wolf of a man

set against an archipelago of sandbars, down the bank.


Surprised at a refrigerator resting in a slant of morning

sun, you announced you’d be wading out to the thing.


I wasn’t dressed for wading, I’m always in the wrong

clothes for any undertaking. I said, No, as you down-


stepped through dogwoods, honeysuckle, and sumac.

Returning, you said not to let you slide back into the


river where white-Nothing slouched on a sandbar

and another method of death might pull you under.




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, American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press, who is bringing out a new & selected in 2020. He has published poetry in december, The Southern Review, New Letters, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, and Rattle among others.