In a magazine beneath the mattress
of my brother’s bed are naked women.
I’m too young for them. My brother’s older
and would know what to do with them, or they
him. On the shelf above my bed I stash
comic books, their heroes in uniforms
as tight as leotards or my mother’s
stockings when she’s got them locked-down right. Snap,
snap, they say, first the right and then the left.
I mean I’ve seen her fasten them, before
Church. I sit on the edge of her bed – my
father’s bed, too – in my white coat and shirt
and blue and yellow tie. I wear the shoes
that belong to Sunday morning. They’re still
stiff, unbroken-in, as good as new, or
as bad. Hurry, Mother, I say, or we’ll be
late. I’m hurrying as fast as I can,
she says. She hoists her red skirt high enough
and clicks her stockings to her garter belt
– I think that’s what it’s called, and reminds me
of garter snakes. I caught one yesterday
and put it in a Mason jar and punched
holes in the lid with a hammer and nail
and showed her. Look, Mother, I say. His name
is Dick. She smiles, so I ask, Do you want
to hold him? No, no, she says. Play with him
a while, she says, but don’t let him out in
the house or we’ll never find him and he’ll
die and stink to High-Heaven. I laugh. And
then we can find him, I say. Enjoy him
for a while, she says again. Then take him
back outside and set him free. I did that
this morning – I screwed off the lid and he
seemed to float right out into the grass and
disappear, but he left his funk behind.
I held the empty jar up to my nose
and got a good whiff. Whew. Something like pee
and Mother’s corned beef and cabbage, which I
hate. It smells so bad I leave the house. She
calls me back in. Father warns me to eat
it but I refuse. They send me to bed
without supper, not even my milk. No
snack later, either. I can’t watch TV.
I turn on the window-fan, even in
Winter, to get the stink out. By morning
it’s gone. If my brother’s home he snatches
peanuts or crackers to satisfy me.
I say, Thank you, but they just make it worse.
To take my mind off my belly I think
about those naked women. I wonder
if their mothers know what they’re doing and
I’m sure they know what it means, which is more
than I do. My brother tries to explain
to me what their nakedness really is.
I laugh and laugh. They’re always teasing me.
Gale Acuff’s poetry has been published in Ascent, Florida Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Brownstone Review, Worcester Review, Ohio Journal, South Carolina Review, Poem, and many other journals. He has authored two books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), and The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.