Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Good Boy

Gale Acuff


My dog's dead. And not only dead. Run down
sometime last night, while I was asleep and
he was crossing the road. He's not supposed
to do that. He knows better. I'm betrayed
and that's even worse. Still, he's just a dog,
not smart enough to disobey for kicks
or from spite. I'm not an expert on mutts—
I only love them, or, I loved this one.
Now I'm pushing the wheelbarrow uphill
with him in it. I stop at the garage
for the garden shovel, lay the business
end up near his head, the handle askew.
Then off to the garden, or the terrace
below, where we bury the animals
we love—my brother's hound, my sister's cat,
my other sister's rabbit, a hamster,
a tropical fish or two too fat to
flush. Their graves aren't marked, except in my mind—
I know where to bury Caesar, without
a map. Here, if the ground's not too rocky.
He waits—he's not going anywhere
while I dig. The hardest part's the surface,
digging through the green grass and roots. In fact,
this time I sink my shovel's blade in squares
so I can lift out turf and then replace
it, maybe even water it, so it
will cover him up right away and we
won't have to wait until bermudagrass
grows over it. Why do I feel as if
I'm digging my own grave? That's plenty deep,
I think. I'm not sure how to get him out
of the wheelbarrow—I can't remember
how I got him off the road. But I take
two of his paws in one hand and two in
the other and remove him like that. Not
his paws, exactly, but where his legs meet
them. Ankles, are they? I'll call them ankles.
So I lift him out—he's heavy, I'm weak
—and lower him onto his back but to
one side of the hole so that he'll gently
fall onto his side. That works. A voice says
Good boy. It could be mine. I look at him,
his teeth still wet and sharp and his tongue pink,
most of the red still on the road. His eyes
—I want to close his eyes. They look at me,
or at something, perhaps the last thing he saw
before he was smashed. Now I remember
hearing a blow and a cry in the night but
I slept through it. I push the dirt back in
on him. I've got some left over. That proves
Archimedes' Priniciple once more but
he's dead, too, and so I tread on the plot
to pack it down and seal him in and me
out. I replace the turf and find a mound.

They say that life goes on, but they mean ours,
not death's. That's what's immortality,
all those left alive to bury the dead.
Of course, if there really is a Heaven
(and if it really is capitalized),
I'll eat those words—or I'll eat that manna
—and wonder why the Bible doesn't tell
a tale men can believe, and not by faith
alone. I pull the wheelbarrow back, behind
me, this time, like a rickshaw, the shovel
bouncing and barking like a cunning thing.
It's when I wash my hands that I believe.

***

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Florida Review, Ohio Journal, Santa Barbara Review, Maryland Poetry Review, South Carolina Review, and many other journals. He has authored two books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004) and The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006). He has taught university English in the U.S., China, and Palestine.


© Gale Acuff

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012