Roy Bentley: “My Father’s Love Letters”


It was 1959. Whatever had possessed my mother
to drag out the charcoal grill and pour starter fluid
over a rubber-banded stack of white envelopes,
her actions assumed the tempo of panic. Fingers
of flame shot up toward the match in her hand,
blue-yellow and swelling, spreading outward
like the hands of a pianist, the blackening scraps
rising into Ohio-afternoon. Oh, and she was crying
as the smoke suggested that in a clock tick a life
can ignite and go up. I remember she walked

from the burning pile, left me to take over.
Anything can be justified by a child’s need
to know what is happening, although the lump
of smoldering intimacies inventoried feelings
I was years from having. As charred as they were,
the center mass of the letters was salvageable.
I two-fingered out a handful of envelopes.
Waved away the smoke. Grief is tissue-like,
an envelope stamped Par Avion testifying
to great distances. I read a few. The house

on Comanche Drive held three people then.
One of them—my father—brought currency
from Okinawa, hundred-yen notes with faces
advertising faraway fatherlands like billboards.
Adoration burns. And it keeps burning if you
go inside to your room and retrieve things
to feed the flames. All afternoon, I fed it
on a paved street where hopscotching kids
paused and pointed at the sky in the direction
of the route and destination of the smoke.

Roy Bentley is the recipient of six Ohio Arts Council awards as well as fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in Southern Review, Guernica, Shenandoah, North American Review, Pleiades, and Prairie Schooner, among other journals. He is the author of four collections: 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 2012 Blue Lynx Poetry Prize.

Table of Contents | Next Page