|Chagrin River Review||
Big black road, big black river,
big black Heaven in the sky above…
—Patti Scialfa, “Big Black Heaven”
It’s 1965. We’re about a mile up, maybe more.
The pilot is I.T. since his name is Ivan Taylor.
I.T.’s decided I’m the son that he’ll never have.
All summer, he’s been taking me up; letting me,
just this week, fly. Steer the thing straight and
level through a bright world above the world.
Below, a checkerboard of corn- and beanfields:
a white-striped snake of two-lane I recognize
as the shortcut past the Pure Oil refinery.
I.T.’s got on those aviator Ray-Bans. He’s
Johnny Unitas, in profile—cropped hair,
one of those grief-chiseled, movie-star faces
that you expect nothing, and everything, of.
He’s telling me about six-degree freedom,
holding forth about roll, pitch, yaw—whatever
those are—and up and side. Which takes me
somewhere I don’t want to be in the Cessna.
He says, “Pay attention. This is backward,”
and slows our forward momentum mid-air.
I.T.’s warming up, throwing first base to third,
the shortstop catching whatever is left over.
Coach Woody Hayes is at Ohio State, and so
every pick-up game is war. Life and death.
You know these guys—sixteen-seeming at thirty.
At forty. The shortstop hurries a practice tag,
reminding I.T. that he’s reminding himself
to press. I know this guy, he thinks, staring
into the ball diamond of I.T.’s Ray-Bans.
Then—wham!—I.T.’s into the near-infield
grass, one-kneeing what should have been easy.
He’s gone down for. In the Hoback Park bleachers
I.T.’s wife is beside me. Pat doesn’t like baseball,
hard seats. A car radio plays a Buck Owens song.
The song is about having a tiger by the tail.
I.T.’s from No Lie, Kentucky. South of,
and between, Hell for Certain and Jenkins.
A hillbilly, technically, because any hillbilly
with college is like a man without a country.
He’s been called briarhopper once or twice.
In the air, we’re off course. Not by much
but enough that I.T. touches the bent brim
of his ballcap. Stares at the line of sunset-
as-horizonline. He’s decided something
isn’t where it was before, and we turn,
the dials of the control panel beginning
to blaze, greening in advancing dark.
From my side of the plane, I see a worked-
to-curving brim of ballcap, some lettering—
everything there is to know about Ivan Taylor
landing a Cessna. If Sundin’s Flight School
had lighted runways I’d know this happened
all the time, right-stuff pilots going farther out
than one should on allotted fuel. I’d reconstruct
an airstrip so lit up by a gas station’s signage
that it should be no sweat. Piece of cake.
If I could trace the line of athleticism
from an infield pop fly I.T. bare-handed
for the final inning’s side-retiring out,
to this windscreen, I’d keep I.T.’s American cool
like it was my birthright or a lucky silver dollar.
I’d have the right-side profile of a man—
all men who exhaust themselves and their allotment
of luck in the service of—what?—you tell me.
The most familiar place in the world is what
we have to get back to, acres of wheat and alfalfa
knotting the last of the light and Heath, Ohio.
I’m not thinking of the Wright Brothers
when Pat hands I.T. his 30th
And I’m tired of the happy pictures of families
sitting down to peaceful meals in the nineteen sixties.
I’m weary of hearing how awfully good it was then.
Maybe any part of the truth travels better, farther,
than the whole truth. It’s just that Ivan Taylor
pitching his unopened gift onto a sofa cushion
isn’t anything I’ve seen before. This is the year
it will come crashing down for both of them,
the year I kill Pat’s oldest and favorite parakeet,
lobbing the bird-as-baseball to Garry Bowling,
a neighbor kid. Don’t ask me why I did that.
Ask I.T. about winging that ribboned shirt box.
Here we are: downwind of—scared, you bet—
and directly over the restaurant where Pat works.
I can see the high schoolers cruising, rolling
through the restaurant parking lot, circling,
while sweating herds of Holstein cattle
fill a flat quilt of fields before the airport.
I.T. isn’t happy about any of this—his life
going totally bust, having to put both hands
on the lopped-off figure-eight of the wheel,
bracing to take whatever comes. To his right,
I await the usual touching-down cry of tires.
He turns from what he’s doing to tell me
something I can’t hear over the high whine
of the Cessna’s throttling up. He looks back,
hydraulic sighings and gear-grindings underfoot
a kind of signal (must be) because he brakes.
And hard enough to leave a ribbon of black
to testify to the fact we’re down, and safe.
We taxi to the hanger and I.T. flips the engine
kill switch. We sit in a silence almost Biblical.
He points in the direction of an almond of flame
from the burning off of waste gases at the refinery.
The light’s no big deal. What’s local never is.
And then he says, That’s what I had to steer by
as if letting a boy in on more than he should.
Roy Bentley’s work has been recognized with fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. His poem, “Famous Blue Raincoat,” won the American Literary Review Poetry 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 will appear in 2013 from Lynx House.