White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
Roy Bentley
Roy Bentley has received fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Blackbird, North American Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Books include Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama, 1986), Any One Man (Bottom Dog, 1992), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine, 2006), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House 2013). His poem "Grief, Joy Mingle at Snake Handler’s Funeral" appeared in issue 5.1 of White Whale Review.

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Roy Bentley

Big Hair


My grandmother, no saint herself, said women were up to something

the year my mother was born in a frame house in eastern Kentucky.

Earhart had crossed the Atlantic in a single-engine Lockheed Vega.

Earhart was wearing pants, Hepburn was filming Morning Glory

Dolores del Rio was starring in Bird of Paradise, a shocking movie

about what it takes not to be the next sacrifice to the volcano god.

Birth stories differ, but my grandmother says that September skies

were a motionless blue above lines of miners walking dirt roads

to work in shafts and tunnels where the darkness (she’d heard)

is so total that the only hope of light is the overflow from lamps.

Whatever molten threat was magnified against backdrop firstlight,

the ease and speed of delivery was a sort of pistol-shot howdy

from the nearest of a hundred billion stars in the Milky Way.

My grandmother said she wanted to (but didn’t) get out of bed,

this being as close as she got to a degree of blind joy upon which

movie stars and aviators fed somewhere between earth and sky.

She named my mother after her sister Nettie. Within a week,

wind stirred the tops of trees and challenged the hinges of doors.

It became a child’s rattle because this one cooed and followed

each flourish of American Lady butterfly startled by breezes.



Roy Bentley


Men like it, the women in my family said of big hair.

And spent their Saturdays under salon dryers

trying to look like Dolly Parton or Tammy

Wynette, both of whom wore wigs. If men’s

bobble-heads were turned by piled-up hair, made

to swivel, then that was that. They’d go with it

in order not to be looked at with indifference.

Which they dreaded like a D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

Spray-lacquered hives of curls stood up to breezes

by some wizardry, as if a glass belljar or helmet

had been fitted over their heads. Strapped on

at the neck and shoulders. I used to touch it,

the hair, get smacked. Do it again. It felt

like those rolls of fiberglass insulation, the side

my father aimed upward between the rafters. Who

knew they wanted to be someone else entirely?


The woman in the stilettos and leather pants

is listening to her born-south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line




Roy Bentley

mother-in-law say Eye-talian is as dark as I’ll go.

It’s clear this woman thinks she’s being

funny, having been informed that Sicilians

are the beige descendants of African invaders:

Over the calm Mediterranean Sea came Moors, Saracens,

intent on raiding the sacristy of cupboard and womb.

Her mother-in-law can’t imagine she’s racist,

not her, not after parading out vignettes

demonstrating some marginal acceptance of diversity.

She chokes on the word wop like a lozenge.

The woman who’s Sicilian-American sees a look

like the one she imagines worn by plantation overseers

barking orders in crushing heat, wiping sweat.

A look of cold, benevolent contempt.

When the woman’s son blows her a kiss

from across the room, she stares back

as though seeing a coastline of slave ships

setting sail, holds brimming with a cargo of flesh.



Copyright © Roy Bentley. White Whale Review, issue 6.1

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