The Dead Reveal the Secrets of Newark, Ohio
after D. Nurske
Some few always ask, what is it like being dead?
Like making out in a car in Dawes Arboretum,
in the backseat of a Firebird Formula 400,
a backseat barely existing in time and space—
sex in cars being the favorite sport of the living—
and being willing to try anything, never despairing,
but behaving with expectation of consummation
while it is gorgeous impossibility that registers.
Like lying on the car’s summer-hot hood after
on blankets scented of sweat and lovemaking.
Like waiting for fireworks over the Courthouse
on the Square, the limestone spidered with vines
and ivies taking over while you divine differences
between the new growth and inexorable attrition.
Like rusted razor wire and padlocked factories
beyond Story, some of the dead are emptied
of any suggestion of the natural landscape.
Some apparitions echo how the body looks
new and old at the same time and is neither—
like any Firebird whose title changes hands
at each layoff or termination that opens us
to there being no world but this failed one.
Remember, death is leaving home
to return and see everything new again.
It’s wading a brackish, polluted Licking River
to skip stones and try and forget your worst day
while you nod to the friend who has followed after
dragging a red fiberglass canoe to the bank, avenues
of river sand and sycamore under wind-rubbed cliffs,
Blackhand Gorge, the cliffs bright with vehemence
part the withering rage of men from the Midwest
and part names and hearts in praise of women.
Black Bear Plays with Pink Balloon
In every revelatory forest, there is that one
with the glint of delight in his eye, swatting,
following through as if that gratifying action,
however wholly unsanctioned at winter’s end,
is a private caesura from predation and hunger.
The molecules of a self may be pink by design
or any bear in a national forest be the Almighty
by virtue of distance and the disdain for humans.
Who’s to say the gift of speech might not accrue
to the bear in the moment it learns aerodynamics
is a function of surface displacement. To hear it,
the song of paw contacting balloon, and witness
the balloon rising at a rate faster than the fevers
of interest launched by ursine curiosity—to see
the joy, one’s enthrallment must be greater than
the fear that Nature and humanity are in a state
wherein the one or the other is about to devour
everything of substance piece by bloody piece.
Oh sure, you love Nature or a notional Nature.
Oh sure, you’re taping this on your iPhone 6s
from relative concealment like a fictional god
who doesn’t mind being present if nothing is
required. In the national forest, a plastic yes
is lodged between breath and breathlessness
before being dropped at the feet of a creature
who stands on hind legs as if life’s table is set
for when there are again no days above ground
and no one to label this as beating-heart tender
and beautiful and, therefore, desperate and real.
No one except a lucky bear at the start of spring
who discovers a toy as round and pink as a soul
and must then voice gladness in a ruined world.
Roy Bentley is the recipient of six Ohio Arts Council fellowship awards, as well as a fellowship from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, North American Review, and Prairie Schooner among other journals. He is the author of four collections of poetry: Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama), Any One Man (Bottom Dog Books), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine Press), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House Press) which won the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize (2012).