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.
I watch my father pour salt on slugs by
the dog’s bowl. I like it too much and he
frowns, Father, that is. A little relish
for death is good, he means, but not too much.
He lets me do it and I pour too much
salt until the slug looks like he’s wrapped in
concrete. You don’t need to use so much salt,
says Father. Salt don’t grow on trees, you know.
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in many journals and has authored three books of poetry. He has taught university English courses in the US, China, and Palestine.