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Roy Bentley

Gloria Regalbuto's Paul Newman Story

Ugly Beauty

My Mother Hands Me a Present, Saying, Now, after 50 Years, Maybe You'll Let It Rest

Christmas Tree Angel in the Background

This Much of Ohio Says You're Home

Gloria Regalbuto's Paul Newman Story

The afternoon Gloria answered Paul Newman’s question
about a race car, a red-white-and-blue 300 ZX, Number 33,
his race car, they were at Mid-Ohio. Newman was Fucking

Paul Newman. She says he lingered, a can of Bud in one
hand; he leaned in, aiming the blue eyes in her direction.
She wasn’t driving that day but loved racing like some

love movies and movie stars. Says she kept her cool.
After he asked his question, she felt herself mouthing
words. It had fallen to her to inspect his white Nomex

underwear—thread-script P.L. Newman stitched
over one breast. He’d picked those up earlier. She
was at the Information Desk for questions now. He

was 62. Gray-white at the temples. Thin as memory.
She’ll admit that she wanted the celebrated stranger.
Between races, the air that over-the-top reek of heat

and honeysuckle and, sure, the usual racing smells.
Says she felt herself tremble before remembering
it can feel like that for someone to look at you.

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Ugly Beauty

                                “I’m famous.  Ain’t that a bitch.”
                                                —Thelonious Monk in the film Straight, No Chaser

There’s the story of Monk coming to Columbia Recording Studios
in New York in 1968 wearing lens-less eyeglasses. Chrome frames.
Talking of the world saying its name. And playing “Ugly Beauty.”

Story goes, the session producer had to stop Monk and call, Start!
He said it with a smile, as if there needed to be humor in the room.
And of course the next thing that happened was the bebop legend

asking to hear the playback, getting up from a piano stool to execute
a little spin move, saying, “Every time you play the instrument you’re
rehearsing” and “I said to record that.” Monk had genius as his excuse;

he was playing The Great Figure holding forth about the world’s name.
The story of Monk opening a suitcase of empty Coke bottles in Customs
in Australia carries the burden of American insolence in his explanation:

“Oh, those bottles. The empties. Yes, well, they’ve yet to be redeemed.
The customs agent seemed to have no interest in argument or jazz greats.
He failed to recognize that the music of rural Appalachia looped through

Monk’s neuronal synapses. Customs Agent Man didn’t know Monk—
Miles digging his cool “modernity,” Coleman Hawkins hiring him;
and Dizzy Gillespie, the whole Minton’s Playhouse mob on stage

and playing together before the world spoke its name to him. Before
the shock treatments; before Charlie Parker pointed to a black-painted
ceiling in a club and said, That’s all the Heaven there is, you ask me.

That day in ’68, maybe he felt trapped by the general state of things,
but he rose like a king to show the players who were lost, though
no one was as lost as Thelonious Monk who was making it up.

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My Mother Hands Me a Present, Saying, Now, after 50 Years, Maybe You'll Let It Rest

              And when, by the hair, the headsman held up the head
              Of Mary Queen of Scots, the lips kept on moving,
              But without sound. The lips,
              They were trying to say something very important.
                                —Robert Penn Warren, “One Way to Love God”

She misread kidding as criticism of her. It wasn’t that.
This was her guilt (maybe anger) at not filling the void

between us caused by absences from factory shift-work.
She came home at midnight, rubber-black and dog-tired—

in 1964, Nettie Potter Bentley worked to pay for a house,
to feed and clothe three kids. This happened at Christmas:

she couldn’t find it, a toy. Something I’d asked for, and
wanted bad. In nineteen sixty-four. And so what I’d said,

still-asleep shuffling into the living room in feety pajamas,
became an anecdote between us on the subject of gratitude.

Says I blurted out IS THIS ALL? to vent disappointment.
And, now, opening this ribboned box with her watching,

I recall the soon-to-be-decapitated Mary Queen of Scots:
a story of a head dangling by gory tendon tethers, though

you have to doubt that dead lips tried to ask, Is this all?
What I said: Where’s my Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots?

Which isn’t the same. But maybe you had to be there.
Maybe you had to ache from all she didn’t have then.

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Christmas Tree Angel in the Background

The trifecta of light and beauty and recent triumph
over the years is in the faces in the photograph,

and a look of victory over apprehension deeded
to the happy instant before presents and a tree,

requisite smiles for the stopped film of a life.
It’s the depiction of them I speak to, believing

not in any deity or heaven but a force of love
big enough to tear at the silences of graves.

Don’t take my word for it. Look for yourself.
Stand in front of the beveled-and-framed 5 x 7,

that stationary moment before all hell broke loose
and she succumbed to Alzheimer’s and he began

hard-coughing himself awake night after night,
both become casualties in the ordinary sense—

three failed surgeries and multiple chemotherapies
offered up like their gift of denial to loved ones.

The defeat isn’t there yet, the last residue of dusk
when fear creeps in territories of mind and body

and faith is whistling past the lie of wholeness
unwrapped and seen as less than we wished for.

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This Much of Ohio Says You're Home

First off, you’re in an off-duty cabbie’s Chevy. In the front seat.
And a fogbound field is boundary between past and starting over.
Through the seam of the windshield, night hovers in all directions.
He’s said that that bus doesn’t run anymore, but he’ll get you there.
He’s failed, he says, to make clear the fare for the thirty-mile trip.
Seems not to care this is your first full day after military service.

In an air-force-issue duffle fat with civvies, you thought to pack—
on the floor at your feet—a Swiss army knife. An open blade
one of many things that can answer someone stroking your leg.
It shouldn’t require a sixteen-hour-long Greyhound bus ride
and That Look to displace you from stumbling around young
and dazed-numb, but it does. No one would fail to understand

as you say No and he reaches under the seat. And you get scared
and exit the car door. Hit the pavement. It’s what you know to do,
in addition to sacrificing your field jacket, the knees of your Levis,
some flesh, rolling like the postal sack of Stupid you are at twenty.
What you see, picking yourself up, is the noisy orchestral motion
of grackles settling onto power lines before an absence of stars.

Engines rev in the throat of dawn. Lights come on in houses.
You drag yourself and the duffle to a cornfield. And lie down.
Somewhere down this road you rise to walk, your parents die.
When they die, your folks, you travel back here because they
were there after nights like this. And knew to let the silence
after pain answer for what it must answer for. Cabbies, too.

If excess of grief is any kind of crime, it’s a misdemeanor.
You’ll walk into an empty house. The beds will be there.
One your mother read herself to sleep in before she died.
The double with that sawn-level place in the footboard—
a consequence of your parents roughhousing, breaking it
because the world we get is one we’re young in once. 

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Roy Bentley's poems have appeared in Blackbird, Shenandoah, Rattle, The Southern Review, and Prairie Schooner--as well as many other notable journals and magazines. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council. His fifth book, Walking with Eve in the Loved City, was a finalist for the Miller Williams Poetry Prize, and selected by series editor Billy Collins. A new collection, American Loneliness, is available from Lost Horse Press in Sandpoint, Idaho.

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