I Take One for the Team: Gale Acuff
Gale Acuff has published his poems in Ascent, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Florida Review, Slant, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review and many other journals. He is the author of three books of poetry published by BrickHouse Press: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.
In his poetic statement Gale says: "I want to discover what's extraordinary about something that seems ordinary, and I suppose that all poets must do so."
I love my lousy dog. He isn't worth
fleas but he's affectionate, and honest,
except for the time I left the cheese out
on the kitchen table and turned my back
and the plate was empty. I looked at him
and he didn't bat an eye or lick a lip,
though he did look guilty, but dogs always
do. So I asked him, Did you eat that cheese?
He didn't say yes but he didn't say
no. He did move his tail a bit. I can't
accuse him without evidence, can I?
Of course not. That wouldn't be right. Poor dumb
animals, they have it hard enough, what
with having no brains or thumbs or music,
nor knowing how to drive, and not able
to read or write or watch TV and get
something worthwhile from it. Okay, forget
TV. Talk to me, I command him. I
sit beside him. I put my face to his,
if dogs have faces--his seems mostly snout.
I decide to bluff him, not exactly
accuse: Suppose you did something you knew
was bad but nobody ever taught you
it was bad, not in so many words, but
you knew enough about what's good and bad
that you could figure it out for yourself.
Would you confess? If you knew it was bad, I mean. And swiping food from the table,
that's pretty bad. Not a sin exactly,
but pretty close. Abraham Lincoln
said that his religion was like this: When
I do good things, he said, then I feel good,
and when I do bad things then I feel bad.
How do you feel right now? Then he licks me
--he wasn't listening. Or he was but
he pretended not to hear. Or he heard
but he doesn't care. I said what he heard
and I don't, either. I sure am hungry.
I Take One for the Team
Remember why you play this game, he says to me, our pitching coach in Little League. What was his name again? I don't recall. But they're pounding me in the third inning, two homers, two doubles, a triple, and I hit some goober crowding the plate. That's my plate, not his. What's worse, we always lose. I guess that's worse. Anyway, I'm winless, 0-4, ERA six runs a game. I've got a good curve ball, though, when it bites and doesn't hang; when it hangs, kablowie. Speaking of hanging, I'm hanging my head. Coach tells me to hold it up high or he'll take me out of the game for sure. I've blown a three-run lead against a team not much better than we are, and we need a win --we're 2-8 and half the losses mine and none of the wins. I look down at the rubber and wonder why they call it that --it's not a condom or an overshoe. It looks more like a thick plastic Kotex. It's hot out here--I can't help but sweating. I hope I don't laugh in the face of his words. You're muh boy, I think he says. Be a man. Th'ow strikes. Give 'em somethin' to hit but on th' groun'. Make 'em beat it into the groun'. Make 'em beat their balls into the groun'. Make 'em beat their dicks in th' dirt. Don't tell yer momma I told ya that. Hit's between us men. Right, Coach, I say. Whatever you want. Now he puts an arm around my shoulder. I hate when he does that. Like he's feeling me up. I get a shiver. Get your God -damn arm offa me, I want to yell. I don't because he might pull me, yank me off the mound and I might never pitch again. So I put up with it. He's whispering in my ear now. You get these nex' two sons o' bitches, he coos, and it's set-ups special for ever'one--No limit. Cokes, snow cones, candy bars, ice cream, chips, moon pies. Anythang you-all boys want. You gotta get these peckerwoods out, tho'. The umpire strolls out to break up us. Let's play ball, men, he says. Coach trots off. His belly and butt shake like Jell-o. I toe the rubber--why
do they call it that?--and wind up and deliver. Like throwing batting practice --the goon tees off and that ball's history. Now we're really in the hole but I wind and bounce one up there. It hits my catcher in the cup and pings like a ball hit off an aluminum bat. Next, my curve ball, which hangs, so he hits it out of the park. Coach returns. Son of a bitch, he says. That's fucked. Okay. Let's call it a day. He holds out his hand for the ball. I don't turn it over. I want to but I can't--it's stuck to my palm, I swear. Chrissake's, he says, gimme th' goddamn' ball. He has to peel my fingers off it. Jesus Christ, he says. Git yer ass in th' dugout. Hit the trail. I can't move. C'mon, git goin', he says. Ever'one's watchin' us. No, sir, I say. And I sit down on the rubber. It's like a bench for my little butt. Folks are laughing. The umpire comes out. Fuck-shit, now I've seen everythang, he says. I fall to one side. Fetal. Out runs a cop. What th' piss is this, he says. This boy crazy? They pick me up and haul me off. Both teams are laughing. I still can't move. Still can't move.
A Lie Between Friends
My dog sleeps on my bed, at the foot, where
sometimes I rub his head with my toes while
I read comic books or rest or listen
to the radio in the afternoons
when I come home from school. When I come home
he's waiting, kowtowing. I'm his master.
I feed him and give him water and play
with him. When he's bad I punish him, but
I don't hurt him. Discipline is the word.
At school I think about him. I look out
the window in history class and see
us romping. I throw a ball. He catches
it but won't bring it back. I don't care. I
chase him 'til he gives it up or I give
out. We lie on the grass and pant. Then I
go to the spigot behind the house and
turn it on. I fill his bowl before I
stoop to drink. Sometimes he won't wait and laps
it as it falls. You silly dog, I say.
Then we pant some more. I take him inside,
through the porch, through the kitchen, then left to
the hallway and up the stairs to my room,
in the attic. The stairway's painted Fire
Engine Red, the cheapest color Father
could find. We didn't have much money then
--he'd been in a traffic accident and
had to take an easier job for less
pay. We ate a lot of boiled potatoes
then. But he got better and got better
work and so we could afford a dog. I
call him Caesar, though he's just a mutt. But
he's my mutt. I wonder if he defends
me to his dog-buddies: My master's good
but he's not that good, but he's my master. I
can hear him saying it. I'm sure he does.
I'm proud of him for sticking up for me,
for not loving less because I'm not pure.
We don't talk about it but we've got an
understanding. That's love is what that is.
We're tired of playing and we've drunk our fill
and supper's not for two more hours so we
lie on the bed, just relaxing, happy
like two animals or maybe people.
I put down Superboy and watch him sleep
and wonder if he's dreaming of me. I
dream of him sometimes. Last night I dreamed that
he was wearing glasses--I wear glasses,
too--and was driving me to school. He's one
careful driver. When we get there he asks,
Have you got money for lunch? I shake my
head no, so he gives me some, but I lied
--I just wanted some extra and I think
he knows that but doesn't say anything.
So if he's not concerned, it's not a lie
between friends. That's pretty smart for a dog.
Tempero-Mandibular Joint Syndrome
Now she says she can't sleep, my wife, even
after her favorite relaxation
cassette, a half hour of some doctor, her
man now, who runs her through the paces of
some kind of mandibular massage. He
lays her hands on her jaws, without touching.
I watch her on her back. Her eyes are closed
in that wakefulness of concentration
as she makes funny faces for the pain
somewhere inside her, say her soul or her
spirit. This isn't doing much for me
and I can't wean her away from him. It's
tension's what it is, to be exorcised
from the face, up to the ceiling, clean through
the roof, I guess. Wonder where it goes when
it gets as far as the sky, whether it
returns to her like acid rain, or smoke
that starts up but drifts back in someone's face.
Or if it lands on someone else, some boob
we don't know, down the street, in the city,
around the world. And if theirs comes to her
--no surprise that she hasn't yet been cured.
After she's wound down, I'll bring it up, when
she's clunked the tape recorder on the end
table and fallen back on her pillow,
my cue to rise and kill the overhead
light. She'll roll onto her right side, and I'll,
I'll lean that way as well, reach my left arm
out into the night and around her waist
thirty minutes later than I'd intended,
eighteen hundred seconds lost to some quack
who has her believing that he's the one,
is right for her, is better for her than
I. That's true, of course. If, when she's listening,
I edge my head toward hers, then I can hear
his therapeutic monotone. Oh, I
hate the voice that comes between us--it rolls
off the tape and through her headphones and in
-to her ears and on her face by way of
her faith. Some other man puts her to sleep
but I'm the one who married her and all
I've got is a body--she won't warm up
to me. Aw, Baby, you don't need his thing,
I tell her. I've got what you need right here.
I don't want to talk about it, she says.
I've thought about killing him--erasing
him forever, or gagging him with some
music, but she'd murder me and mourn him
and probably go crazy, just like me
--she says I grit and grind my teeth at night
and I should listen before it's too late.
I'll listen backwards, I say. I'll show him.
When I die I might go to Heaven but
since I'm not counting on it and forget
that Jesus was crucified for my sins
and took 'em all on Himself, and others'
besides, then . . . I 'm not sure where I was go
-ing with this except that I might like Hell
better or at least be more suited to
it and it me and then everybody
will be happy, if God says that I be
-long below then I'll take His word for it
and I guess He'll see that it will be good,
at least Hell will be a good fit and if
that won't satisfy Heaven then what will, what
will except that I go to dwell there but
as for Hell, it's only Number 2 though
when I told Miss Hooker so after church
she said, and she's my Sunday School teacher,
It's also dead-last, Gale--think about it,
which I don't want to but I said Goodbye
to her as usual and See you next
week and of course I said the same the week
before and saw her again before Sun
-day School today so all is well but still
time passes and I'm outgrowing me each
day and someday what I've been doing now
won't last, I'll be doing something else,
maybe that's what I'll hit Miss Hooker with
next Sunday, that even when I'm dead I'll
be busy somewhere, in Heaven or Hell,
and we'll see what she says about that, my
life to come, in Hell that is. On my walk
home from Sunday School there were dark clouds but
they wandered off, I even heard thunder
and saw heat lightning and smelled some water
in the air but the downfall never came
to me. Maybe to Miss Hooker. Downpour.