Two poems by Gale Acuff

“Shot”

How easily he could’ve thrown me down,
my father, in the photo of him and
me, mostly him, when I was just a few
months old–smack on the walkway that leads to
the house where I grew up, or tried. But how
could he have gotten away with it? Watch

the birdie, perhaps Mother’s saying, if
indeed she was behind the camera
–if so, then she still is, I can see her
as easily as I see Father and

me, stone-still, taking the photo even
now. I’ve seen this picture a hundred times
but only now has something clicked,
that, in real time, when the image was caught,
Father approached Mother, the camera
still pointed at him, more at him than me,
I hope, until they exchanged baby for
machine and, in fact, that’s the very next

photo in this family album, this
time with me in Mother’s arms but struggling
less, if one can judge of still-life that way.
And I suppose that if I didn’t know

better, she, too, could destroy me, raise me
over her head and then with both hands and
wrists and elbows and shoulders and arms dash

my still-stiffening skull on the stone where
I’d explode like a firework–I wonder
what I’d have sounded like? And can you take
a photograph of the sound of nothing

lost? I think that I’m glad that they didn’t.

 

“Understated”

Miss Hooker says that when you’re dead you feel
more alive, if you’re in Heaven that is,
if you’ve been good, if you haven’t sinned more
than you have to and you sort of have to
because Adam and Eve did and passed sin
on to us so the best we can do is
cut back, Children, don’t let Jesus have died
for nothing on the Crucifix, think of
all His pain and how it must hurt Him when
He looks down from on High on you and sees
you sinning. Miss Hooker’s our Sunday School

teacher and we’re all ten years old and if
I don’t get saved before I croak then I’ll
go to Hell and I shouldn’t want that be
it Eternity or not and it is
but not the kind Miss Hooker says I’d be
happy in. And that’s an understatement,
she says–I’ll be tortured forevermore.
When I got home from Sunday School today

I told Mother what she said, Miss Hooker
I mean, about feeling more alive in
Heaven, Hell too, I guess, but anyway
Mother said that that was a paradox,
to be dead but feel alive and it was
clever of her to say it, Miss Hooker
that is. Yes ma’am, I said, I’m not sure why,
but anyway she makes me want to die
does Miss Hooker, she makes me want to kill

myself and if I could stand the sight of
blood, I just might do it but then again
I could drown or hang myself or jump out
a high window or off a building or
throw myself in front of a train or car
but it had better be moving pretty
fast, the car that is, I mean I would die
so suddenly I’d never see any
blood at all–that’s suicide, I forgot,
and it’s a sin, it would only get me
Hell, not Heaven. Plus no more paradox.

 

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Coe Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, 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.

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