“The Old Church by the River,” oil on canvas, by Frits Thaulow, 1895.

by Roy Bentley

I was raised with religion, if you count my granny Potter
reading to me from The King James Bible, and you don’t count
my parents having absolutely no use for God until they were dying.
Maybe if you can count that they knew Elvis had three Grammys,
all in Gospel, and add in that the one jazz record they owned—
Miles Davis—Porgy and Bess—mentioned a quote Doctor
Jesus unquote in one of the songs. My father always said

he wished he could play trumpet. Meaning: like Miles.
They might dress me up and catch the Sunday services
at the Church of God on Dorothy Lane, but the church
of their God was the hillsides outside Dayton, Ohio—
they wanted to be out in the open air in cars, all kinds,
but mostly in Cadillacs because it was the nineteen fifties,
the jazz on the radio a music that they were starting to love.

As God is my witness, they would say if something was true.
The gospel of light in a streambed is one thing, but my mother
and father hadn’t come to Ohio for beauty. Home was beautiful,
home was Kentucky. Still, they had left Beauty in the tobacco barn
bursting with crop, and with the general ruckus of any working mine
at shift change, the sweet reek of coal smoke up and down the hollows.
In a summer soughing of oaks and poplars, a song of tree against tree

that could have been the Almighty trying to speak and be heard.
Ohio wasn’t Kentucky. It was a start. A new place. A chance
for a factory job with overtime. Benefits. Union protections.
Ohio was “Here Come De Honey Man” but for hillbillies.
On their turntable, the red-labeled Columbia Record album
spun and a trumpet in the hands of Miles Davis, a black man,
said Gershwin said “It Ain’t Necessarily So”—meaning blacks

on their side of the Great Miami in Dayton, and the Ohio River
in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, couldn’t count on our God,
a God of the full belly and a VA-financed three-bedroom house
with a yard in a neighborhood where the world looks like you.
Sundays, they’d climb into the DeVille and drive to the river.
To be reminded they were blessed, my parents. Before they
divorced. Before the death of JFK, as God is my witness.

Roy Bentley is the author of Walking with Eve in the Loved City, finalist for the Miller Williams poetry prize; Starlight Taxi, winner of the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize; The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana, winner of the White Pine Poetry Prize; as well as My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems 1986–2020, published by Lost Horse Press. Poems have appeared in North American Review, The Southern Review, Rattle, Shenandoah, and New Ohio Review, among others. His latest is Beautiful Plenty (Main Street Rag, 2021).