Gale Acuff: a poem



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I never knew what hit me when I died that morning – I fell, between leaf and blade while I was swinging on a rotten rope from east to west – I had my right foot in the loop at the bottom of the line, like a stirrup, and was holding on with both hands until just east-to-west became north-to-south as well and soon I rode in circles. It was a circle broke the thing, the privet limb growing out like someone's arm aiming a finger shooting at the Evening Star. I felt the break and was free until I landed on my shoulder blades and spine and tailbone. Father was sitting nearby, in his old lawnchair, reading his newspaper. His heard me and came over, knelt – I remember that – and put one hand on my shoulder. I couldn't breathe, like one of those dreams where you think you're drowning: You're underwater and you're drowning, and you die and then you're awake, coughing for air as if you're newborn or have been holding your breath but at last you can breathe but you breathe as though you've never drawn breath before. Catch your breath, he says. Take it easy, now. Just rest while you get your wind back. Are you alright? I can't yet speak. I don't know how but it will come. We're holding hands. His is large, like a paw, and swallows mine and he grips firmly but doesn't cause me pain. Life, that's what this is. That's what I am. I remember now, take deeper breaths until I roll over in his direction, prop myself on my elbow, then my hand. I'm sitting. Why did you want to break that rope, he asks, but it's not a question. It hurts to laugh. I'm sitting with my knees pulled into my chest. To rise I fall to my left and now I'm ready to crawl. He helps to raise me. I'm breathing easier so I walk over to his empty chair and sit while he goes to get another. We sit side by side, the rope like a snake beneath the tree. I can't tell if I'm young or old. I know who I am and can count fingers and remember my address but something

isn't right, or right in an unseen way. Father fakes reading the sports section. His right wrist and hand are shaking. It's not breeze. I want to ask him if he's alright but this is my moment, like a birthday or straight As on my report card or other job well-done – mowing, hoeing, or cleaning out the garage to surprise him when he comes home from work and has a place to park that's more like a bedroom for the Chevy than a doghouse for an automobile. I wait for him, open the garage door so he doesn't have to do it himself. Sometimes I stop him at the open door, like a traffic cop – thrust my palm forward and up and strike that pose. He could run me over but he doesn't, with the car or his anger. He plays along. Sometimes when I walk out of the way he sounds the horn and makes me jump, both feet leaving the ground. Then he enters, laughing. I will get him when he opens his door – let him climb out, then I climb on him. You're under arrest, I say. I pull his wrists behind his back and cuff him with my palms but he fights back in play and takes control and overcomes me instead. Then he lets me go and then pretends to chase me. I run away but he never follows. All this is love, love, whatever love is – whatever love is it hasn't left or died but it's away, somehow, like breath you lose or a garden that wilts or a toy that breaks and you mourn because it's hurt, can it feel the pain, does Heaven have room for broken toys and lost dogs? Yes, Son, he still assures, as I lie on my bed, thirty-seven years later. Yes, it does for people, too. How beautiful it is – wish you were here with me to see it but there's no rush, take your time. Plenty of time. It's what he read in the paper, I'll bet. His hands were shaking, shaking up words into revelation, what they really mean. On the side of the car it is written, underneath and over Chevrolet, God. The rope on the lawn is the sibilant in snap, stun, grace. So sweet the sound that saves...



Gale Acuff has had poetry published in AscentReed, Poet Lore, Chiron Review, Cardiff Review, PoemAdirondack Review, Florida ReviewSlantNeboArkansas Review, South Dakota ReviewRoanoke Review, and many other journals in eleven countries. He is the author of three books of poetry: Buffalo NickelThe Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.