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).

Hammer Face

A poem by Matt Dennison


One night after dinner
our father rose from the table
walked into the parlor
sat before the piano
pulled two packs
of thumbtacks
from his pants
slit the packs
with stiletto slid
from shirtsleeve
into hand and back
opened the piano top
worked a tack into every hammer face
ragtime’d wild for twenty minutes
and never played again.


After a rather extended and varied second childhood in New Orleans, Matt Dennison’s work has appeared in Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider, Natural Bridge, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and Cider Press Review, among others. He has also developed short films alongside Michael Dickes, Swoon (Marc Neys), and Marie Craven.

A Trick My Father Learned in Prison

A short story by Donal Mahoney


I’m not saying my father hated the English, God forbid. If he were still alive, he’d hate to hear me say that. He’d correct me right away and say he didn’t hate the English. Truth be told, he despised the English, especially the Black and Tans. They were the troops the English sent to take over Ireland before, during, and after the Troubles in 1916. That was the time when the Irish first fought seriously for their independence.

My father would tell me often about what the Black and Tans did to him in 1920, at age 16, when he was captured while running guns for the IRA through marshes in rural Ireland. He knew the marshes in County Kerry very well because he was reared there as a farm boy. The IRA thought a boy like him would never get caught. But a boy carrying guns was not a common sight in the marshes of County Kerry.

The Black and Tans put him in a cell with a dirt floor. He sat on that dirt for a month after they broke both his legs with rifle butts. They were in no hurry to summon a doctor.

A cellmate gave him a pad of paper and he would sit on the dirt writing his name backwards with his left hand until his signature matched the normal one written with his right hand.

Decades later, in America, after he had been expelled from Ireland and had married my mother and settled down with a job in Chicago, I heard many stories not only about his life in a jail cell, but his life milking cows and goats on a dairy farm as a young boy. He had to do that if he wanted his oatmeal for breakfast.

I was in grammar school in the Forties when I heard a lot from my father about the Irish seeking their independence. His stories were a lot better, I thought, than paying 25 cents on Saturday afternoon to see a Western with Gene Autry at the local movie house, even if the movie was followed by 25 color cartoons.

One day after school I had some friends over at the house. My father, a man of many moods who was then not yet diagnosed with PTSD, took a pad of paper and, with a pen in each hand, signed his name forwards with one hand and backwards with the other, simultaneously. He then held the pad up to the long mirror in the hallway and, of course, the signatures were identical. My friends and I, crowded around him, were very young but even if we had been adults we would still have been amazed.

After my friends went home, I asked my father how he learned to do that and he told me about the Black and Tans, their gun butts and that pad of paper the cellmate gave him. Rather than write letters to his family and upset them by letting them know he was in prison, he practiced writing his signature backwards with his left hand. This was one of a number of odd things that my father had mastered, all of them interesting to a child, but not worth going into at the moment or I’d be typing for a long time.

Eventually I grew up, went to college, married, and moved to another city and my father wanted to come and visit us and see his first grandson. Fine with me, I thought. I just hoped his affable mood would last and not disappear during the visit. I didn’t want to impose on him the nighttime crying of an infant since he had lived through that with me as a colicky child and my mother said he didn’t weather it well, having to get up early for work the next morning. So I decided to get him a room at a nice hotel. However, I picked the wrong one.

I made the mistake of making a reservation for him at the Henry VIII Hotel, named after the English monarch. I can still hear my father yelling when I mentioned the Henry VIII Hotel over the phone.

Indeed, the Henry VIII was a nice hotel decorated in an English style that would truly have enraged my father. It was torn down not long after he died. But he had never been a guest at the Henry VIII, having stayed at another hotel free of any English taint. And his visit went well, all things considered. No outbursts or commotion.

Had he lived long enough, however, my father probably would have been far more upset to learn years later that his grandson, after graduating with honors from the University of Chicago, went to England to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Tuition, room, board, and books were free, but Oxford, of course, was in England—and it was England that had sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, and it was the Black and Tans who had broken my father’s legs.

Sometimes I think about what it might have been like had he lived long enough to learn that my son had won that scholarship. I imagine calling him to tell him the news, and suddenly I can hear him yelling louder than when I told him about the Henry VIII Hotel. This time he would sound like a muezzin in a minaret on top of a mosque. Only he wouldn’t be summoning the faithful to prayers.


Nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net and Pushcart Press’ Pushcart Prize, Donal Mahoney is a resident of St. Louis, Missouri. Some of his earliest work can be found in his online collection of poems, The Gravedigger’s Son (2011), part of a series of blogs featured in The Camel Saloon’s Books on Blog™ Web anthology. Some of his newer work can be found at his poet profile page in Eye On Life Magazine.