by Gale Acuff
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Worcester Review, Defined Providence, Brownstone Review, Danse Macabre, Maryland Poetry Review, South Carolina Review, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Florida Review, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, and many other journals. She 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).
When it rains I go up to my attic
bedroom and listen to it machine-gun
the roof. I'm closer than anyone else
in the house to Heaven this way. My dog
is afraid of thunder and lightning and
scratches at the door because he's afraid.
I'm thirteen and want him to be a man
about it. I shove the aluminum
door against him and knock him off the back
porch. That doesn't stop him. Then I wonder
how I'd feel if I were out in the rain
and lonely as well and someone I loved
and who I thought loved me could let me in
and dry me off and comfort me, perhaps
let me lie on the floor or at the foot
of the bed. So I go to the door and
let him in. He's afraid of the storm—he's
afraid of me, too, now—I hurt him, more
ways than one. But he's not so afraid that
he doesn't come in. I'm sorry, I say.
He accepts that. I grab an old towel and
he follows me upstairs. I dry him off.
I tell him to stay and I go downstairs
to the kitchen and get him a sausage
and he wolfs it and I pet him and start
to cry. I'm sorry, boy, I say. I lost
my mind there. I just wanted you to be
a man about this. You're a dog, you know,
not a—uh—not a man. Life's difficult.
And even though we're closer to the storm
for being on the topmost floor, and though
the thunder and lightning don't abate and
the lights wink off and on and off and on,
he's better now. I pet and pet and pet
him. He licks my face—it's messy but he
needs to. I didn't mean to be cruel
—just comes naturally, I guess, though
I'm usually pretty good, do well
in school, and I'm a good athlete although
I'm small for my age, and I read comics
and go to church and know that good's better
than evil but often more successful,
and my country's good and Vietnam's bad
and clothes are good and naked girls are bad
and the Monkees are good and the Beatles
are bad, though they used to be good, and sin
is another word for bad (not the same
part of speech, though), and marriage is good but
divorce is bad, and smoking and drinking
are bad unless you're old enough for them
and even then they're not what you'd call good,
and Martin Luther King was good and George
Wallace is bad but he still gets the votes,
and Nixon's bad but Kissinger is good,
and John Wayne is good and Bob Dylan's bad,
at least since his motorcycle wreck, and
Russia's bad and China's bad and Cuba's
bad and the US is good, if only
the Russians and Chinese and Cubans would
admit it. So I've got a pretty good
idea of what's good and what's bad and it's
gotten me this far. My dog's asleep now.
I've got to be good to dumb animals
the way God's good to me. I'll be pounding
at Heaven's gate, pleading, Don't leave me out
here in this storm. I love you, God, and I'm
scared. I hope it doesn't come to that but
if I wise up and show some mercy then
God will show mercy to me, too, I hope.
In fact, I'm counting on it. I don't want
God to say, Remember when that critter
begged to come in out of the storm and you
knocked him off the porch? What the heck were you
thinking? Please, Sir, I say—I let him in
at last. I saw the error of my ways.
Please forgive me. Please don't send me to Hell
—one year, on the playground, I got heat stroke,
remember? They carried me to some shade
and gave me water and I woke up
and said, It's good to be alive today.
I remember, God says. I showed mercy.
Yes, Sir, I say. I made a mistake but
I tried to pay for it. Please don't hate me.
Alright, God says. You make a good point. No
Hell for you. Just follow the light on in.
I do and see my dog there. Animals
in Heaven—I'll be damned, I'm whispering.
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