Religious

A poem by Gale Acuff


When my dog dies I hold a funeral
for him, but when nobody’s looking, so
I won’t be embarrassed at taking life
so seriously. I’m only seven
and shy anyway and he’s my dog so
I can do anything I want. It’s like

my birthday, or Christmas morning, or good
grades on my report card. I’m not happy,
of course, that he’s dead, Caesar, I mean. No
sir: I cried when I found him so and he
didn’t move when I called him and called him,
not even when I poked him with a stick
right in the ribs, where he should have felt it.
I screamed like a girl, too, to see his face
looking alive but being not—his eyes
open and looking—at what?—and his mouth
agape and his tongue out, just like panting,
which kind of figures because he did that
when he was hot or tired or both and now
he’s dead and that’s like being hot and tired
beyond how panting could ever help. I

run to the house and find Father in
front of the TV and Game of the Week
and a Schlitz in his grip and I yell, Hey,
Father, Father, Caesar can’t move and I
think he’s dead. Hurry! He puts the brew down
on the table and misses the coaster
and he’ll catch it if Mother finds out and
he follows me out though I’m way ahead
and waiting about a yard from Caesar
when he gets there—Father, I mean. Well, well,
he says—I still mean Father—for pity’s
sake
, he says. He’s gone, sure ‘nough. I’m crying
now and he says, Father says, Don’t take on
so, boy, but let’s go get the wheelbarrow
and shovel
, so we walk, side by side, to
the barn, not that we own any livestock
anymore, and get what we need. Then we
come back. I watch Father lift Caesar in

-to the wheelbarrow. Soon we’re rolling, down
through the garden and onto the terrace
below. Let’s see where we can put him, boy,
he says. We find a good spot near the pines.
I start to dig but he takes the shovel
and says, Better let me get it started,
so he cuts through the grass and weeds and
lets me dig some and then he digs what’s left.
He lifts Caesar out of the wheelbarrow
and into the hole—the grave, I mean—and
my job’s to pile all the dirt and grass and
weeds back in. And I never see my friend
again, but that’s death for you, also life,
so maybe they’re really the same thing, but

I’m still a little boy and Father knows
the truth and I’d ask him but I don’t want
to make a pest out of myself—he works
hard and it’s Saturday and he’s missing
the baseball game on the tube. And his beer.
Well, that’s that, he says, when we’ve finished. He
was a pretty good ol’ dog
, he says. Yes,
I say. Well, I’ll go in now, I guess. You
come soon, you mind?
He says it as if there’s
something to be afraid of out here but
he’s not going to question my courage,
not at a time like this. God does that, too,
I guess. So after he leaves I don’t know
what to do, exactly, but cry some more
and look at the flowers and trees around
us—I mean Caesar and me—then stare at
the grave, which is new, and death, which is old,
but no older than life, I’ll bet. I sing

Jesus Loves the Little Children, and say
a few words on top of that that I learned
off TV, something like Lord, this dog was
a good dog and please take him into Thy
bosom, whatever that means—I thought just
ladies had bosoms, but God is special
so anything’s possible. Now I’m scared
so I turn and run back to the house and

that night I dream that Caesar digs himself
out and comes into my bedroom and jumps
onto the bed and starts licking my face.
I wake and my face is wet—tears, not licks.
I cry a little more, or that’s whimpers,
the way Caesar did when he was a pup
and too small to jump on the bed and if
I lift him up there then he might fall off
or I might roll over him in my sleep
and squash him. So I got down on the floor
and slept there with him. And we were happy.

But the next day death is a day older
and so am I but it’s a day ahead
of me. One day it will slack up for me
but if Caesar can stand it, so can I.
Once you’re dead you live again, but for keeps,
is what they say at Church. I hope they’re wrong.


Gale Acuff is an assistant professor at the Arab American University in Palestine. He has taught English in the Palestinian West Bank, the U.S., and China. His poetry has been published in Ascent, the Ohio JournalDescant, Poem, the Adirondack Review, the Coe Review, the Worcester Review, the Maryland Poetry Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse Press, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse Press, 2008).
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