Sean S. Bentley ~ Three Poems


The Battle of Anghiari (1505) … often referred to as ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ …believe[d] to be hid­den beneath one of the lat­er [Vasari] fres­coes … in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. … a scene of a vio­lent clash of hors­es and a furi­ous bat­tle of men fight­ing for the flag.”

The bat­tle … was fought on 29 June 1440, between the forces of Milan and the League of some Italian states led by the Republic of Florence in the course of the Wars in Lombardy [1423–1454]. The bat­tle was a vic­to­ry for the Florentines…. remark­able for the fact that though the bat­tle last­ed all day, involv­ing sev­er­al thou­sand troops, it was said that only one sol­dier was killed.”
                                                                                              – Wikipedia

We took the morn­ing bus
west from Umbrian Sansepolcro
across the Tiber to Anghiari
on its cypressed Tuscan hill.
A bald state­ment and uninspiring.
But we climbed the twist­ing road,
and at the crest passed through
vast fields of sunflowers,
faces turned toward us,
attend­ing to the sun
behind us call­ing reveille.

We strolled the stony alleys,
in and out of shadow,
gazed down Via del­la Battaglia,
Battle Street, blade-straight, narrow,
so steep that bus­es can’t manage,
and across the plain where half
a thou­sand years past, battle
whirled. Swords (we thought)
flashed in mid­day sun and flashed
into limbs and murky guts,
arrows fly­ing sol­dier to soldier,
bees’ dance to dark blossoms.

Leonardo sketched it, frescoed
it, six­ty years later:
war unde­terred by death
or divine injunc­tions or platitudes
of turn­ing oth­er cheeks.
If there were a winner,
it didn’t last long;
by night­fall or century’s end
blooms left standing
would reverse their light­ward spin,
again and again, sunset
now call­ing taps
west from Florentine hills,
soon ris­ing from Venice in the east.


Memento mori

Our house ran­neth over with stones: bowls of agates
off Agate Beach, ringed basalt tal­is­mans drawer-huddled,
flowerbeds roil­ing with erod­ed, rid­dled shale from Ediz Hook.

On our walks my shal­low pock­ets filled with rocks,
not even mul­ti­col­ored or unique but dul­ly gray, signifying
some­thing then, now mean­ing­less, unmemorable.

These and shells, from tiny clams or snails, might
pop­u­late the ash­tray of the car (when cars had ashtrays
and no seat­belts), sand dol­lar ikons on the dash.


Lately, speck­led cowries from pel­i­can havens
in La Jolla, holed “hag­stones” from the Norfolk coast,
Anzio’s or Amalfi’s shards of ancient pottery,

Irish-green peb­bles from Lahinch. And a witch’s brew
of feath­ers from Cackling Geese, Scrub Jays, even
Bald Eagles; a hoof or mandible; bits of mousebone;

skull of Anna’s Hummingbird; tail of win­ter weasel
(bought—not found—at a trib­al store).
Seedpods of catal­pa, strange nuts and fruit

mum­mi­fied like beads or heads, smuggled
through Customs to accrue in my room,
my desk at work, on win­dowsills and in lit­tle boxes.

All por­tals to the real mag­ic realm
which a mere look can open, from where
my cor­po­re­al self lingers in the worldly.


We pass con­stant­ly through trappings
of an unrec­og­nized cathe­dral, frescoes
of lichen on a wall, hang­ing tapestries

of leaves, all of which car­ry echoes
of our obscure sab­baths in oth­er places,
the shores of oth­er times.

Dry, flat and fad­ed blos­som relics
inter­leave dic­tio­nary pages where my mother
placed them after her long-ago wanderings.

Now her room’s vas­es hold maple leaves
fall­en sere in the sana­to­ri­um grounds.
Like an ikon on a wall call­ing to mind

a high­er plane she once engaged with,
each skele­tal shape means some­thing to her still,
if she could only put it into words.


Good times, bad

times. Maybe it’s my frame of mind
(some might blame the dark­ness of the Jews,
though Episcopalians tried their damnedest
to add me to their flock), but it’s the bad times
that stick, the flubs, the hurts giv­en and received,
flaws, cumu­lonim­bi with­in sil­ver­ish linings.

I’d ven­ture more than just me,
it’s the human dark­ness that dredges up
lessons learned the hard way
to avoid the next time. Who remembers
as crys­tal­ly the things that didn’t go wrong?

The tricky part (there’s always a tricky part)
is when good things turn out to be bad
down the road. Are we wary of that good thing then?
Take the cryp­tol­o­gist so con­di­tioned after years
suc­cess­ful­ly decod­ing duplic­i­tous messages
that even love can’t be tak­en at face value.

And then there’s the bad thing
you come to see was the dis­guised blessing:
take the cru­cial tail wind that died
just as the 21st Bomber Command on Tinian
November 17, 1944 was about to take off:
their mis­sion was scrubbed but their lives were
saved, that frus­trat­ing calm fol­lowed soon enough

by a six-day storm that could have left 119
brand-new B‑29s, each manned by 11, now
emp­ty of bombs on their return from Japan,
lost and typhoon-blind, plung­ing fuelless
some­where in the Philippine Sea.

But good or bad? As it was,
the lucky squadron still flew, a week late,
still dropped their hun­dreds of explosives;
the deaths from that delayed “vic­to­ry”
and the lat­er fire­bombs and atomics
per­haps pre­vent­ed untold thou­sands more
had America not pre­vailed. (That
was the argu­ment any­way.) Or take
Major Kong, Dr. Strangelove’s B‑52 pilot
you find your­self root­ing for even though
bomb­ing the Rooskies will set off Doomsday.

The slope is slip­pery indeed. Good turns to bad
in a blink like a bike ride that ends in a swerve
and crash; though you are hap­py to have
a hel­met to save your pre­cious noggin,
your brain will remem­ber – what?
the fun or the acci­dent, intertwined
like two poi­sons that are each other’s antidote,
god and dev­il cre­at­ing the need for themselves,
world with­out end. The hack­neyed piety
turns out to be per­haps true: that good
requires evil, no dreams are sweet
with­out nightmares.


Sean S. Bentley’s work has appeared in the mag­a­zines Crab Creek Review, Seattle Review, Third Coast, Painted Bride, Northwest Review, Poetry NOW, Bellingham Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Coe Review, and many oth­ers, as well as the antholo­gies Pontoon 3 (Floating Bridge Press), Iron Country (Copper Canyon), Intro 6 (Doubleday), Island Of Rivers (Pacific NW National Parks Assoc.), and Darkness and Light: Private Writing as Art (iUniverse). In addi­tion, he has pub­lished three col­lec­tions: Grace & Desolation (Cune Press), Instances (Confluence Press), and Into the Bright Oasis (Jawbone Press). From 1986 to 2006 he coedit­ed the print poet­ry jour­nal Fine Madness.