in a trailer in Illinois, stoned to the bejesus,
I saw a six-foot twisting duck in red shoes.
The thing performed. Saluted me. Then vanished
into farm-country summer air. A white man’s
vision. Donald Duck in dapper footwear.
The dance meant something I suppose,
but I was young and blew it off, dismissing
the Spiritual and its emissary like so much smoke.
There was a war ongoing 8000 miles away
in Southeast Asia. They were smoking Thai sticks.
Seeing their own apparitions. We had respect
for what they were going through. And felt guilty
at having somehow escaped filling those red shoes.
I was in the Air Force, off duty for the weekend.
My roommate Butch didn’t see what I saw—
but he said he didn’t doubt I’d seen something.
He smiled after hearing me out. That smile
was the beginning of feeling respected. Like
someone had imagined what it was like to be me,
and didn’t see me as one more twenty-year-old
far too alive for his own good. I remember
standing up in the living room and improvising
the hurky jerky movements of my gargantuan duck.
Then putting on a record called Who’s
by the Who, dropping the needle onto “Behind
Blue Eyes” before commencing the twisting again.
My duck announced the Glory of All Things.
But maybe you had to be there. In a trailer
on South Chanute Street, doing a dance
of joy at your exceedingly good luck.
Bentley’s work has been recognized with fellowships from the NEA,
Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. His
poem, “Famous Blue Raincoat,” won the American Literary
Contest in 2008, judged by Tony Hoagland. Poems have appeared in The
Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Blackbird, North American
Review, Prairie Schooner, American Literary Review and elsewhere. Books
include Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama, 1986), Any One Man
(Bottom Dog Books, 1992) and The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana
(White Pine Press, 2006). Starlight Taxi, his latest, won the 2012 Blue
Lynx Prize in Poetry and is out from Lynx House Press.
|While I was in
the air force and stationed in Illinois, I had a friend named Leonard
Thompson. Everyone called him Butch. And Butch was the sort of person
who seemed open to the world around him and to a recognition that
there's much about being alive that is beyond explanation. More
importantly to me, however, he was someone who respected others. The
poem is my attempt to thank him for not dismissing, out of hand, a
vision I once had and shared with him. Regardless of what I think of
that vision, I remember Butch in that trailer, listening and smiling,
acknowledging my right to be in the world and to have my own experience
of it. It's a stunning gift when someone bestows that acceptance upon