NEA Literature Fellowships

Roy Bentley

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(2001 - Poetry)

The Heron Tattoo

When I think of summer in Seattle, I think
of the tattoo parlor on Evergreen Way
in Everett, Washington, where Gloria Regalbuto
paid eighty dollars to have a Great Blue Heron
tattooed above her right breast, in four colors,
in answer to the tiger above my left breast.
I had never watched anyone being tattooed®
you can't really watch when they do it to you®
and I saw blood rise up from her, oxygenated,
bright, sulphur-colored, the never-completed blood
of her history and her apprenticeship to it.
She bled her mother's cruelty, the lesser bumps
of girlhood in Cleveland's Little Italy; she bled
her artist-father's successes, his failures, the art
of being able to talk Cleveland Browns football
from a hospital bed; she bled the surface of her face
changing from stunningly beautiful to just beautiful
to the uncertain nights lessening its best features;
she bled early menses, Catholic school, the lie
that pain is your ticket to Heaven. Then, it slowed;
the work was done - the rainbow-outline of body
restricted to shades of blue and deep-forest green,
the white top-beard of the bird's head, the legs
so identifiable as Bird as to be nearly a caricature.
When I think of love, being loved,
that's what I see, that bruise of a bird
standing on a lakeshore of flesh and seeing
itself and the world in eyes that happen to be
looking down, trying to disappear into another
whose blood's mirror is theirs and shining
with what is and isn't about to fly.

(first appeared in The Ohio Review)

Real Audio"The Heron Tattoo" read by the author

Roy Bentley is a native of Ohio, born in Dayton in 1954. He has taught English and creative writing, at the college level, since 1981. His poems have appeared in The Ohio Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, New Virginia Review, North American Review, Indiana Review and numerous other quarterlies and reviews. He has published two book-length collections: Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama Press, 1986) and Any One Man (Bottom Dog Books, 1992). In addition, two chapbooks of his poems have appeared: The Way into Town (Signpost Press, 1985) and The Edge of Heaven (Bottom Dog Books, 1987). Roy is a five-time recipient of Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship awards. He has a website - - and a new chapbook called "Reparation" due for Spring 2001 release from Pudding House Books in Johnstown, Ohio.

Author's Statement

It's been almost 4 months since I received news of my NEA award, and I must say that I'm still getting a kick out of the feeling of wanting to high-five myself in the morning while shaving. One thing I plan to do with the grant money is to take much of the summer off; perhaps teach only a single class, if that. Most important, however, is the fact that writers whose work I have read and respected for better than 20 years have said Yes with regard to the work Im doing. That, as the ad says, is priceless. Finally, the respect afforded previous winners has been extended to me by my peers and by other professionals -- not to mention heating and cooling repairmen, my students, my mother and fathers fellow retirees. If that is what's meant by "Won money is twice as sweet," then I'd agree wholeheartedly.