Ballad for Dianne Bentley
“Well, we just got home and Dianne’s going for a walk on the beach, so that worked out perfect. I’ll be able to talk to you, just for a few minutes.”
—Phone recording of Former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley with his senior advisor, Rebekah Mason
The shoreline peels down Orange Beach.
She tries to feel the cold
compress of sand exfoliate
her feet, but her toes just ping
distress, nerves pricking at the French
tips, and she’s wondering,
perhaps for the first time, about
the scientific names
of all the creatures she sidesteps.
Forty-nine years of marriage,
of visits like this, of names like John-Mark
and Matthew. Now, Rebekah.
Rebekah with a K-A-H.
And only one name for seagulls,
one for crabs, one for dunegrass.
A handful more for fish—
perch, grouper, snapper. It’s cold, baby,
it’s cold, it is here. She knows.
Her husband and Rebekah shift
the furniture as breezily
as county lines, talk privacy
while plying the credenza.
Back in his med-school days, could he
have named for his young bride
this pickling of the flesh, this sin,
this gravity now squeezing
calluses into his skin?
Imagine Dianne in white
clam diggers, polka-dot flip flops
dangling from her grip.
She knows. The night grows murmurous,
and she considers
for a moment something more than shame
or scandal, something more
than mere betrayal, something out
behind the tonsils
of the gulf, a dark so powerful
her eyelids feel the suck.
Bless our hearts and other parts.
He reads her like a psalm,
a Southern lady of the steam-
cooked class, subfamily maybe
Take your earring off
and let me kiss your ear. Is this
what passes for romance? No.
She knows these words before she hears
them, but allows their berth.
She widens her stance in the surf, reminds
herself she does things
on her own terms, buried in the earth
until the right time comes.
She’s keen without the names of things.
She gives him half an hour,
gathers her sweater close and walks
back home, where he’s getting off
the phone. Behold this call,
so fearfully and wonderfully made.