My Dream That We Are Spirits

I had decided to pray. I had been eating buffalo for months
and asking others to do the same. I asked my dead uncle,
in the ground for thirty years by then, whose Olan Mills
portrait in a frame graced the top of a chest-of-drawers,
to intercede in a matter of some importance. He heard
a prayer delivered in the way Catholics pray to saints—
I spoke to that framed image of him I’d kept nearby for
all those years—and the prayer was answered. I forgot
to thank him, thank Whomever, until I was watching
a program on Native Americans. Heard how the buffalo
came up, out of the earth, to feed the people of the Plains.
The beast was named “Majestic One”—with a Sioux word
the pronounciation of which I’d be unworthy to attempt.
Josh Brolin was knocking around, in a History Channel
movie with its wide river panoramas, fighting bears and
having to get someone to stitch his scalp back on, and
I remembered the prayer. And toasted the spirit of Billy
Potter with a good Kentucky bourbon because I knew
the water in the whisky came from where he was born,
where every morning light touches the people as if for
the last time, in Letcher County, a place without buffalo
where words like majestic aren’t voiced much. Before
he got God, he’d have estimated Existence as: We fight,
we fuck, we die. Something like that. A thing men say.
Then he joined a sect of Protestantism that calls itself
Holiness. His mother had been Old Regular Baptist.
These sing hymns where lines of song are given out
before being sung without accompaniment or with
the barest of instrumentation. It no longer matters
whether he was right about God being this thing
we carry with us. I have his voice, holy or human,
in wind that practices the art of call-and-answer.

Roy Bentley’s poems have appeared in the Southern Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, American Literary Review, Pleiades and elsewhere. He has won a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in poetry, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs individual artist fellowship, and six Ohio Arts Council individual artist fellowships. His latest book of poems, The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana, won the White Pine Press poetry award in 2006. A chapbook entitled Captain America Gets Arlington Burial (Pudding House Publications: Columbus, Ohio) is due out in 2012. Lately, he makes his home in an area of Iowa often referred to as Sundown Mountain.