Gale Acuff

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Florida Review, Poem, Maryland Poetry Review, Adirondack Review, Danse Macabre, Worcester Review, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse, 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.


When Mother's sick I look through the keyhole
of her room, Father's room, too, to see how
she is. Even if she's not stirring she
may still be alive. If I see her move
that's a good sign but I might be seeing
her spirit struggling free to go up
to Heaven. I never see it leave, though,
so she's still alright, at least still alive.
But she's too sick to cook supper tonight
so Father's put on her apron again
and I hear him in the kitchen, dropping
things and saying hell and damn a lot, words
I'm not allowed to use or I'll catch it
if I'm heard--heck and darn are all I rate.
Where the hell's the damned can-opener,
he calls. It's not really a question, more
like a demand. I'd better go help him
--my left eye's sore from squinting anyway
and my right's too weak even to see through
an open door. If thy right eye offend
thee, pluck it out. I
do love God but that
would hurt too much on an empty stomach.
I want to see her move before I leave.
I'd go in to check Mother up close but
I'm afraid--I don't want to find her dead
and then have to come tell Father. I'm not
supposed to open the door anyway.
I pull my head back and rub my eyes. From
the sound of things in the kitchen it's soup
and crackers again. Tomato, like blood
but I like it. Crackers, dry like old paint
or even sunburnt skin that I pull
when I'm outside too much in the summer.
It's dead but it's fun to peel it away
and see new me beneath it. Father frowns

all through supper tonight. He clears his throat
after we finish and lights a Lucky
and watches the match burn nearly to his
thumb. I watch, too. Will Mother die, I ask.
Well, we all die sooner or later, boy,
he says. Is she going to die sooner,
I ask. He's raised his left eyebrow--I can
do that, too (I'm a chip off the old block)
and says, She's got a bad kidney but she'll
come around.
Can I talk to her, I ask.
Not tonight, he says. Maybe tomorrow.
After we come nack from the specialist.
Oh, I say. I start to cry. Big boys don't
he says. Then damn them to hell, I say.

The Eagle Has Landed

I'm thirteen and watching men on the moon,
Armstrong and Aldrin, on the old Zenith
black and white. We get four channels and all
four keep flipping on the horizontal.
Maybe next year we'll get a color set.
It's black and white anyway, Father says.
I've just finished seventh grade, being
beaten up for the first few times, learning
what hormones are, and waiting for my voice

to change. I'll have something to say, I think,
as I watch the astronauts bounding. Not
so far as I hoped they would. Behind them
the Lunar Excursion Module they eased
down in. A ton of blackness around them
in their white suits. They raise the flag. Is it
fluttering? An optical illusion,
my brother-in-law says. He should know, owns
a Nikon camera, served in Japan , and
an Akai stereo, went to college
for a few months, and works at the Goodyear.
One day we will all be dead and this house
will be gone but at least we see this, so
it all, whatever it is, will have been

worth it. Reverend Brown at St. Andrew's says
we ought to pray for the men who explore
the wonders of God's creation.
But if they can't crank up the LEM again
what's that mean when it comes down to being
saved? I must be--last year I joined the church.
Mother's made popcorn. We'll have a snack while
we watch history in the making, as
my brother-in-law puts it. He should know,
college and all that. Japan and marriage.
I may never get to Japan but I'll
sure as heck marry one day and have sex

--when people have kids, that's historical.
Neil and Buzz look like Pillsbury Doughboys
--Teletubbies, I'll think, when I'm older
and wondering if the Apollo landings
were faked. If you can't trust television,
what then? You can see the American
flag reflected in Buzz's visor. Where
no man has gone before
, Brother says. He
lights a Marlboro. He's twenty-one, thinks
he's James T. Kirk. What did he say--Armstrong
--what did he say? That's one small step for man,
or one small step for a man--one giant

leap for mankind?
If he said for man--one
giant leap for mankind
, what's the difference?
I hate to be confused by history,
especially when it's on prime-time tube,
up close and personal. This is a day
we won't soon forget,
Father says. And how,
I say. So true, Mother says. Check--right on,
my brother says. I want to go to the moon,
I say. One day, I mean. I hope you do,
Father says, so you can straighten that flag.
He has to straighten his room first
, Mother
warns. Heck, I say--water under the bridge.

Copyright 2010 Gale Acuff