Ballad for Dianne Bentley

by Cheyenne Taylor

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
arthropods, echinoderms.
             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.

CHEYENNE TAYLOR is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Florida. Raised in Alabama, she received her BA and MA in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her work has previously appeared in Barrow Street, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Cincinnati Review, and Quarterly West, among others.