Friday, June 16, 2017

Gale Acuff Makes Kites and Chong Yen's P-38s Haunt the Hallways Like Amelia Stephens


While my dog sleeps at the foot of my bed
I tickle his ears with my toes and read
a comic book. The window fan's spinning
and tomorrow morning we'll run downstairs,
Caesar and I, to have breakfast--I'll fix
his first--then fly kites if there's wind. If not
we'll try again in the afternoon, when
the June air's warmer and makes a breeze
to raise our craft without us having
to race against the wind to create lift.
Caesar will bark as the kite rises and
I'll laugh at him for being so silly.
I'd let him hold the string but he'd drop it
and kites don't grow on trees--this one cost me
49 cents down at the Five & Dime.
(It's 1966; I'm ten years old).

Sometimes we make our own, sticks from branches,
glue I make myself, the Sunday comics
for the skin that stretches over the bones.
For a heart I give it mine. For a soul
--it picks that up from the sky, takes it in
if I can get it high enough up there
so that it dances by itself. That's what
I mean by soul. That's why Heaven's over
our heads. To bring it down again I wind
it in, hand over hand, a slow process
and contrary to Nature, I guess, but
I can't just release the line, or break it,
and watch it waft away, no matter that
I wonder where it's off to. Still, the link
has snapped on more than one occasion, but
that was the wind, not a boy and his dog,
who let it get away. When that happens,
we follow it as far as we can. And

one day, what holds me to the earth will break,
too, and I'll fall to the ground, later
be buried inside it, yet float away
and see everything my kite can see but
just as if it's all spread out before me
--much like my life is now . . . but without end.
I'll have lots to live for when I die,
but who will follow me to find out where

I've lighted? I suppose I'll find myself
--a neat trick, better than the loop the loop.


From my attic bedroom I see my school.
It's well and I'm sick--flu, or a virus,
something I caught from my classmates there. Now
it's my turn not to turn up. I feel like
heck. I can't keep anything down. Even
saltines and Coca-Cola. They come back
up. I have a fever and yet I'm freezing.
I get some sleep, in snatches, and have dreams,
nightmares by day, from which I jerk awake
to wonder where I am. Oh, yeah. My bed.
What day's today? Wednesday. Over the hump,
almost, of the school week. What time is it?
About 1:00. Time for recess soon.

I hear the students running to the playground.
Kickball. Jump-rope. Basketball. Ducks and drakes.
I wish I could be there, not that I'm good
at sports. But I like to run and play and
shout. I'm small for my age--I hardly get on base
or kick the ball out of the infield or
make a basket. But when my pals do
I cheer, and when I do they shout, Acuff,
you're oh-kay. Then we return to class and

draw. I like airplanes. I can draw them but
not exactly, not as well as Chong Yen.
He's from Taiwan. He can draw them as if
he's taking a photograph or building
a real bird, right before your eyes. I say,
Look, Chong, at what I drawed. He rolls his eyes.
Drew, he says. Look at what I drew. Then he
comes to my desk and picks up my drawing
and says, No, no, no, a P-51
doesn't look like this at all. Don't forget
the details. He returns to his desk and
I follow. He's drawn P-38s. Wow,
I say. You sure know your planes. I whistle.
He smiles--he's pleased--and looks away. He has

three brothers and two sisters. I know--I
met them at his birthday party. I don't
get invited much to birthday parties
but I did to his. I gave him a plane,
a model plane, a B-29, wrapped
up nice by my mother. Here, Chong, I said,
after we had cake and ice cream and it
was time for him to open his presents.
Chinese have birthdays, too, just like we do.
It's a small world, I guess. It's a small world
because it's so big. Anyway, he took
it--both hands. Thank you very much. I said
You're welcome, which sounded strange because I
hardly ever say that, much less Thank you.
He carefully unwrapped it and folded
the paper flat--he didn't wad it up

like I do. A B-29, he said.
I hope you like it, Chong, I said. Do you
like it? Yes, he said. I am overwhelmed
by your thoughtfulness. No one's ever said
anything like that to me before. Oh,
it's nothing, I said. I'm glad you're happy.
He didn't look at me because he was
crying, which confused me: Chong, if you don't
like it, I said, you can take it back or
I can take it back for you and get you
something else, or just the money. No, no,
he said. You don't understand. But I do.

And after drawing we have history
--Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth
and Useless Grant and all those men with beards.
Even when they're young they look like grandpas.

I fall asleep to the sounds of my friends.
I'm under the sheets and my eyes are tight
and it's like we're all here together.
I'm sweet on Amelia Stephens. Sometimes
I try to dream about her. It starts with
us in a yellow station wagon, really
more golden than yellow. I'm drawing and
she's sitting right beside me. We don't have
children because I don't know how that's done
and I guess she doesn't either, at least
in my dream. I don't know where we're going

but we're together and heading somewhere
so that's really all I know about love
but it's enough. I love her in my dream
and real life, too, but I'll never tell her
and spoil it. She wears pretty dresses and
socks that come up to just below
her knees. She's taller than I am so my
legs are about as long as her socks. Now

she's sitting beside me, saying, Poor thing,
I love you--when I'm sick my mind
plays tricks on me but it's really my heart.
Then I hear the three o'clock bell ring and
children being noisy as they get on
their buses. I walk to school--I've never
ridden a bus, not even a Greyhound.
It looks like fun, you and your friends going

home together though your homes are different.
When I'm well enough to go back to school
it will seem new again, like a friend
or an out-of-state cousin you see just
once a year, if that often. I mean that
you don't take them for granted anymore,
or at least not so much. That's what love is,

not getting so close that you ruin it all
or needing them so bad it makes you puke.

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Poem, Adirondack Review, Coe Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Arkansas Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, and many other journals. Acuff 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).  Acuff has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

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