History Lesson

A poem by Gale Acuff


From the attic window I see my school.
My bedroom’s up here. I’m sick today–flu,
maybe, or a virus. Right about now
we’d be looking in our history books.
The Gettysburg Address, I think. I’ll miss
it again. Of, by, and for the people.
I can just make out the Flag, and the state
flag fluttering beneath it but with it.
I wonder what we’ll have for lunch today.
For a quarter it’s not that raw a deal.
The lunchroom ladies tell us it’s balanced.
That means it’s equally bad all around,
the meat, the vegetables, bread, and dessert.
At the dinner table my parents say
Clean your plate–there are children starving
in China, India, Africa, and
on the reservations
. They can have mine,
I said one time. It was the only time
–after supper Father licked me but good.
I still don’t understand how eating all
my meal means other kids don’t go hungry.
I’m afraid to ask. Otherwise, my folks

aren’t bad. Soon Mother will climb the fourteen
steps up to my room. She’ll bring saltines and
Coca-Cola and hope I keep them down.
I want to read my comic books but they
won’t sit still. I get dizzy. They move and
move in circles. Somehow Batman is up
and then he shifts to the right and then he’s
down and then to the left, and then he’s up
again. He won’t keep to the center and
Robin and Ace the Bat-hound move with him.
They may as well be dancing and then I
want to throw up. I have a radio,
a transistor, but the battery’s weak
and I don’t want to use the juice that’s left.
Even looking out the window makes me
sick. I can’t be where I’m supposed to be
and I’m missing Lincoln’s famous speech, or
at least what my teacher’s teaching of it.
I can get into bed but there’s nothing
to do but stare at the ceiling, or close
my eyes and stare at their ceilings, the backs
of my eyelids. Still, it’s easier to
imagine that way. There’s the President,

tall, and ugly and handsome all at once,
maybe with his stovepipe hat removed and
reading his little speech that was so big
and then finishing in only a few
minutes and all the people looking at
each other as if to say, Holy cow,
that wasn’t a speech but a recipe
.
And Honest Abe leaves because he’s got work
to do, he’s got to end this war that he
started. I’m from Marietta, Georgia,
and that’s what they teach us. But whatever
the truth is, he was great enough to be
assassinated–a pretty long word
all to mean to get your brains blown out. If
I wasn’t afraid of throwing up now

I’d find that Superman story where he
breaks the time barrier into the past
and stops John Wilkes Booth from shooting Lincoln.
Sic semper–ulp! is all Booth says before
the Man of Steel cuts in right before ulp!
Then Lincoln thanks him. Later Superman
returns to the present but everything’s
the same–he thought he changed history but
no dice. Then he discovered he was on
some other earth, maybe a parallel
universe. Boy, was he disappointed
–who wouldn’t be? He’s as super as heck
but not enough to stop evil before
it happens because it already has.
I think I’d rather die from kryptonite
poisoning than a broken heart–I mean,
if I have to die at all, and I guess
I do. I hope it’s not real soon. I hope

it’s as far away as never having
to die at all, almost. I’m not selfish,
just afraid. Dying is the kind of thing
that, if it is the end, should happen in
the past, where ends belong. Not the future.
Tomorrow, I hope, I’ll go back to school
but it’s not like I didn’t learn something
today. I just won’t get it on a test.


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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