I go outside to play with my dog
this morning but I can't find him until
I spot him in the middle of the road,
right on the yellow center line, where cars
just miss him as they zoom opposite ways.
He's dead. I'm stone for a few seconds. I
don't know what to do but I know the truth
about life now--oh, I know that things die
but now I'm seeing death with my own eyes.
I wonder if it hurts even after
it ends. I walk down to the road and look
both ways before I cross to the center
and dare to touch my first dead animal.
Death's not only killed him, it's broken him.
I pick him up but his throat and nose
stick. I lift harder and peel him free and
leave a little bit of him where he lay.
I get out of there fast before death kills
me, too--before my time, I like to think.
I carry Caesar up into the yard
and behind the house and onto the trail
that splits the garden and ends in the woods.
There's already a hole started where I
thought I'd dig to the center of the earth
when I was little. I'm 10 now. The dirt
I shoveled out is grown over with weeds
and grass but I can shovel it back in
on Caesar. It belongs to this hole, too.
So do I, I think, when I've buried him.
I never did make it to the center
and Caesar has a better chance, if dogs
rise from the dead, as they say people do,
or maybe that's just their spirits. I know
that if I were a dog and dead and set
into the ground like this, and I feared God,
if dogs fear God (Caesar was smart enough
to), I'd get my courage up and explore
and who knows what kinds of bones I'd find there
or interesting smells or passageways
into gopher holes or other burrows.
Or if I miss all that fun and just wake
up dead-but-alive in god-Heaven, I'd
put in a good word for my master, still
alive down there, of course, and working hard
in school and doing his chores and saving
at least some of his allowance each week
and going to church regularly, or
more or less, and never forgetting to
feed the dog. I'd have a new body, too,
and no fleas or ticks and I'd never lick
myself down there, and I'd live forever.
And one day my master will join me and
I'll do the trick that I could never learn
no matter how patient he was with me.
And I'll do it for Jesus, Who will laugh
and clap His hands, just like a little boy.
The first time I encounter the word fuck
and wonder is in the boys' bathroom in
the basement hall that separates grades
one and two. It's on the wall of the first stall.
FUCK, it brags, and I pay attention as
I drain my lizard. Wonder what it means,
I whisper, so no one can hear me but
me and the word itself. What it is is
our secret. I'll never tell, at least not
until I'm walking home this afternoon,
Bill Nutt, my neighbor, by my side, my best
friend but I really don't have any
that are human. I love my dog, my cat,
my fish, and my hamster. And birds outside
my window, but they're not really pals--they're
too free for that and if I should approach
them they'd only fly away. I don't blame them.
Church has a name for it--original
sin: something I did but wasn't around
to do, long, long ago, has cost me heaps
in love and understanding--and in life,
too. I'm the reason that I have to die
one day--any day, any hour. Minute.
Second. Right now. Or right now. Adam
and Eve fixed me good, got themselves booted out
of Eden and since they're everybody's
first parents and did the first really great
wrong, I have to pay as if I did it.
I don't question God--it's His job to know
what's what in life but He's a puzzlement
just the same. Oh, of course there's Jesus, His
Son, died long ago for my sins . . . . I wasn't even born
then. Man, I think I'm in trouble now
--for peeking through my sister's keyhole and
forgetting to do my English homework
and swiping a a dime from the collection plate
last Sunday and stealing a candy bar
at the 7/11 down the street
and calling Bill Nutt a son of a bitch,
whatever that is, and teasing the cat
and spitting on the sidewalk and laughing
when the fat girl who sits across from me
pooted when the bell rang for recess and
Teacher kept me indoors. Lord, I have sinned
--I know I shouldn't but it's not my fault,
it's Adam's. Or, it is my fault but it's
not fair because I didn't do it first,
it's part of my her-i-tage, a real bad
part, like slavery and gassing Jews and
foreign kids who don't have enough to eat
and I'm just a kid without much power.
But if I believe in Jesus He will
save me. I'll still lead a sinful life but
somewhat less than it might have been and when
I croak I'll go to live in Heaven, or
not right off the bat--I'll have to wait there
in my grave until I get the call-up.
Or maybe I do get to go right then
--I forget. I'll ask Bill, even though he
goes to a different church and even though
that might mean he'll go to Hell or I will
or we both will or neither of us will.
In the meantime, it can't hurt to ask him
what FUCK means. Wouldn't it be funny if
he says, Where did you get to know that word,
and I say, It was on the bathroom stall
and he says, Oh, yeah--I wrote it there, and
I ask, Well, what does it mean, and he says
Friendly Unicorns Can Kiss? I'd be darned.
She's just put her baby down for a nap
and returned to the spot on the couch where
I take the child's place, put my head on her
lap and look up, pleased that I cannot see
her face for the overhang of her chest.
So I reach up with my right hand because
my left arm's wedged against her midriff and
unbutton the final button on her
blouse and pull each side of her blouse apart
as if I'm opening kitchen curtains
in the morning, and I begin to knead
each nipple, already hard like cigaret
filters, and watch my fingers stroke and bring
out the light blue veins of her mammaries.
I shift my weight nearer to her knees so
I can see her face: eyes are shut and lips
slightly parted in pleasurable pout.
Now my left arm's free so I pull it back
and raise myself with it and suck her
nipples and she whispers, Umm hmm, Baby,
too loudly, and he cries. Then we cease and
wait to hear his silence, which, when it comes,
is loud enough for us to continue.
Why don't you get back on the bed, I say,
and she does, and I'm face-down in her and
before long my chin is wet. I mount her
and it doesn't take long until I collapse
with my face to her cleavage and her hands
running fingernails-first through my hair. I
want to be free, she says. Who doesn't, I say.
© Gale Acuff
Bio: Mr. Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Poem, Adirondack Review, Coe Review, Worcester Review , Maryland Poetry Review, Arkansas Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.