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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A poem by Gale Acuff


At church they say that when I die I’ll go
to Heaven—and they should know, I guess. I
have to be good, though, and when I sin, I
have to pray to be forgiven. And I
can’t sin on purpose and get off the hook
although I’m not sure why—something about
being a hypocrite. After Sunday

 

School I walk back home and take off my clip
-on bow tie and put it in my pocket
and pull my shirttail out and blow bubble
gum and step into the woods to pee. I
come out again and can make out our house
at the top of the hill. I can’t live there
forever. I’ll have to graduate from
high school and maybe go to college and
graduate from it, too—hope it’s not hard
—and find a job and get married and have
children and then retire and be old
and play with my grandchildren and then die.
That’s when I’ll meet God—or meet Him again,
if I knew Him before I was born. I
don’t remember now but maybe I will
when I see Him. Or maybe I’ll just hang

 

until the Judgment Day, which means
lying and shriveling up and rotting
in my pine box in the ground until all’s
up. And then I’ll see Him. I’ll be a soul
by then, however—invisible, but
God will know it’s me. Without eyes I’ll see
Him as clearly as day. Into the Lake
of Everlasting Fire, he roars. Sure thing,
I say, but I was really hoping for
better. Suddenly I’m neck-deep in flames
—maybe they will purify my spirit.
And if it’s Eternity then there’s no
time to worry about. A soul can burn
—I know that now. Brother, do I ever.

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).

Invictus

A poem by Jack D. Harvey


The coolness of night chills;
from the frail body
the rasp of night scours
dreams, visions like rotten iron.
Fires are burning in
hell that would hold
even the infinity
of God;

Satan has conceptions.


Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, Mind In Motion, The Comstock Review, The Antioch Review, Bay Area Poets Coalition, the University of Texas Review, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and a number of other on-line and in print poetry magazines over the years, many of which are probably kaput by now, given the high mortality rate of poetry magazines.

The author has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, New York. He was born and worked in upstate New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired. He once owned a cat that could whistle “Sweet Adeline”, use a knife and fork, and killed a postman.

Bob’s Big Promotion

A short story by Z. M. Darkbloom


The ineffable Sun God Sal, Bringer of Light, Life, Growth, and Sunburn rose every day, and he had done so tirelessly for billions of years. His loyal subjects remained anchored in primordial mud beneath him, dutiful human-apes slouching lowly on two limbs before such an awe-inspiring tapestry of clouds and stars, convinced that the Bringer of Life would not ascend the divine summit of heaven without their offerings and prayers. But how could such simple nether-beasts know that Sal would rise regardless of their groveling? Not that they really considered this—and, if they did, it’s not as though these thoughts would have kept them from sleep or solace. Bob didn’t like to question the ways of the Gods anyhow, or much of anything for that matter—but today he was certain of one thing: Today he was getting that promotion.

~

He rose with Sal as tradition dictated. Naked, he anointed his body in red and yellow paint, lit incense, and through the cloying smoke he prostrated himself before the Gods as the emberous Father of Light and Life rose to the East. Then Bob strolled naked through his meager apartment to the kitchen. He sat and ate cereal at a small wooden table, reading the newspaper and checking text messages on his phone. Afterward, he showered and shaved and washed off the ceremonial paint, and dressed himself in a new pair of slacks, a white dress shirt, and a garish red and gold tie. This will please Sal, he thought. Before Bob left, he cast bones before his personal altar—the way they landed, what they spoke of, well… praise be unto Them! Success was assured. He smiled and strolled outside to greet this glorious new day, not just a gift from the Gods, but surely a promise.

~

It was a bright, ceremonious fit of a Sacred Monday, mankind gloriously heading back to work after a weekend of rest, golden bars of light beaming down from the heavens with the dawning of morn, the world of animals alive and slithering. The budding elms and maples that lined the city streets waved in the wind amongst the noodling of the telephone wires above Bob’s head, and with the car windows down, he could smell fresh grass clippings and fragrant spring blossoms in the air. Neighbors waved to him as they strolled the sidewalk. Bob waved back, and as he rolled up to the town’s center an earthy odor of rot filled the car. Bob smiled at this—his favorite part of the day—the approach to the roundabout named “Solstice Circle”. Here the Ceremonial City Engineers designed a monument that was unparalleled for hundreds of miles. The nearby settlements and villages looked upon Solstice Circle with jealousy and spite, praying to Lord Vishra, Goddess of Fury and Scorn to smite them down, but alas, the gods shed only their blessings, or so the High Priests told themselves. At the center of the roundabout a massive granite pyramid was erected, with polished onyx blood-letting channels leading symmetrically down in a star-shaped pattern from the great sacrificial stone tablet at the top of the monolith. Through all the seasons the monument to eternity bore fruit.

The winter had been gentle that year, and spring was promising, with great heaps of organs filling the moat that the blood-letting channels oozed into quite generously. The smell was pungent, a bouquet of copper and iron and sweet decay rich in the air, the grounds covered in thick and syrupy blood. The outer edge of the circle was adorned with heads skewered on long wooden spikes, and mounds of bodies were stacked on each side. Bob smiled as he drove around this holy tribute, certain that today was his day. He nodded to the great ziggurat, offering a silent prayer as he passed its mighty circumference, keeping an eye on it in his rear-view mirror, the heads on spikes disappearing behind him on the way to work.

~

Bob arrived at the office ten minutes early but Kenneth was already there before him, dressed in the same garish tie Bob wore. He frowned, but Kenneth smiled.

“Look at Father burn,” Ken said, nodding at Sal. (“Praise be unto Him,” they both uttered.) Bob nodded and looked away, attempting to shrug off Ken’s stupid, friendly chatter.

“Hey, I’ve been reading up on the old ones,” Kenneth said—”can you believe these people used to think the Great Sun God…” (“All praises be unto Him,” they both murmured again) “… was just the eye of some asshole called Ra? How dumb is that?”

“Who’s Ra?” Bob asked. Kenneth shrugged.

“Some old god, some superstition—but just the eye? I mean, c’mon! What kinda god is missing an eye? And what kinda idiots even worship something preposterous like that?” Bob frowned.

“I dunno,” he said as he opened the door to the office.

~

With the last few employees filing into the small brick building, Ashra, High Priestess of the Office spoke over the intercom:

“Sal brings us a new day once more…” (“All praise be unto Him,” the office murmured) “… and to answer His generosity we shall bring Him gifts to slake His fiery hunger, to bid Him rise once more. Let us pray and satiate the Gods of Dawn—Bean, Goddess of Coffee; Bengal, God of Toasted Breads; Birdie, Goddess of Morning Song; and Contraxius, Lord of Business!”

At this, the office prostrated themselves on their plastic floor mats, their rolling chairs offset to one side before their computers, and they offered up their sincerest gratitude and thanks.

“Praise be unto You,” they murmured, bowing towards Sal twenty-seven and a half times, as tradition dictated.

“And Praise be unto us,” Ashra answered through the intercom. “Now let us go out and seek new contracts, bring new glory to the Gods, and if we please Them, then perhaps the great Taco Truck will bless us with a hearty lunch as it often chooses to parketh in our lot.”

“Amen,” the office workers cheered, “Amen!”

Bob set to work, calling more clients, securing more contracts. Kenneth walked to the kitchenette at the back of the office and toasted a bagel. Gloria the intern brewed another pot of coffee, and the office partook.

Praise be to the Gods, Bob thought. Praise be unto Them.

~

At noon the taco truck waited in the parking lot of the office.

So the Gods truly be on our side, Bob thought, a sure omen that his promotion was forthcoming, that he would be guaranteed to dwell forever with Sal on the Plain of Light, a halo of stars to be all his own, infinite wisdom just out of reach from the limitations of this dirty, deathly, physical realm.

He ordered five carne asada tacos, and once he had his plate he strolled towards the Sacred Sun Altar that was surrounded by a small grove of pine trees behind his office. As was custom, he offered a taco before the large, carved stone altar at the center of the tree ring, leaving it there for the immortals among the many previous taco offerings, and he bowed before it. Then he sat down in the dirt at the edge of the grove of trees, too unclean to sit with the Gods themselves, and he ate in silence. When he finished, he entered the office and Ashra’s voice resounded through the intercom. Bob and his fellow employees prostrated themselves on their black plastic floor mat prayer rugs.

“Let us give thanks,” she said, “to Taquitzo, God of Tacos, let us give thanks to Sal for this unrelenting flood of daylight, let us give praise to Contraxius for another fruitful morning, and may an even more bountiful afternoon be ours, a gift for us to utilize—precious time for us to build upon.” (“Praise be unto the Gods,” the office murmured in turn.)

Bob set to work with a spirituous fervor, like a man possessed, like an animal who was more beast than man.

~

The work hours were almost up, and already Sal’s love and light and warmth waned towards impending night, the fire of the Father giving and taking His brilliance as He saw fit, coming up short in the fall to inspire faith in the weak hearts of men, and rewarding their piety with the bursting forth of light and life in the spring.

Ashra spoke over the intercom once more, completing the day’s triad of holy proclamations. The front of the office all bowed low on their floor mats as she spoke:

“I am pleased to announce, before the highest Gods and us lowliest mortals, that our new promotion has been chosen,”—this is it, Bob thought, this is my moment—”and that promotion, Ashra said, is Kenneth!”

Kenneth blushed there on the ground a few feet away from Bob. The office cheered. Kenneth bowed up and down on his prayer mat, he bit his lips, he smiled and cried out in joy as sobs of glee shuddered through his body.

“I am not worthy, I am not worthy,” he cried. Everyone in the office cheered.

Dammit, Bob thought, not smiling, not cheering. Dammit. On a sacred Monday? She chooses him?

Ashra entered the corridor to the front office, a vibrant floral-patterned dress kissing her ankles as she walked, feet angled on hallowed high heels, face covered in a traditional black silk veil, auburn hair tied back in thick braids. She bowed before Kenneth, who bowed to her from the ground, and she took him by the hand.

“Stand,” she said, and he did.

With Ashra’s two burly, robed attendants in tow, they walked outside, heads held high while the rest of the office worshippers remained bent low before them. Before Kenneth exited the building, he wiped away a tear, and then he turned and winked at Bob. Kenneth exited the building and closed the door behind him. The rest of the workers remained on the ground, eyes pressed down into the plastic of their prayer mats, with only Bob sneaking glances up to the door, cursing his lowly mortal status as they waited for Ashra’s return.

The employees laid there for minutes that spanned on like an eternity to Bob. In his excited frustration, he forgot he had to pee. He squirmed on his mat, curious now if people had to engage in bodily functions on Sal’s Eternal Plain of Light, when his thoughts were interrupted by a clanging of bells as Ashra opened the front door to the office. She gracefully bowed as she entered the building with blood smeared across her face in the shape of a hand print. She held a brass blood bucket in her left hand, and in her right hand was a dipper. Her attendants stood behind her at either side, holding up bowls of smoking incense and brass bells. As the chimes ceased their ringing, Ashra spoke:

“As you depart from us great Sal, let us offer you this blood, these organs, this head, this heart—in the covenant that you shall rise again.” Ashra dipped her spoon into the blood bucket, and she flung it this way and that, adorning the office in Kenneth’s DNA. The employees cheered, every last one of them except Bob, who only burped quietly in disappointment.

The blood splattered all across his co-workers, across the walls, across Bob’s shirt, across his garish tie, and as it splattered into his face, he spat.

“Dammit Kenneth,” Bob murmured to himself. “Always been such a show off.”

~

Ashra finished anointing the office in blood, then walked back to her private chambers, her attendants waiting faithfully outside the door as tradition dictated. She clicked the intercom once more to free the children of the Gods from their work day—she spoke deeply and slowly:

“May Mother Moon guide your sleep tonight, and may the Traffic Gods Stahp and Gho show you a swift, safe and merciful journey home. (“Praise be unto Them,” the office chanted in response.) Ashra then sat down and called upon the Sacrificial Body Movers to come and pick up Kenneth’s pieces to be displayed ornamentally at the revered grounds of Solstice Circle. Then she phoned Michael, owner of the taco truck.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “Please come by our office again tomorrow for lunch. Noon is perfect. Thank you.”

She hung up and smiled fervently, staring through the office windows into the distance. Then she dipped her hand in the ceremonial brass bucket, the blood coagulating and cooling between her fingers. Ah, she murmured to herself as she craned her neck, closed her eyes, and wiped another smattering of Kenneth’s blood across her face.

“Praise be unto Them,” she said, “Praise be unto Them.”

~

Bob drove home. He rounded Solstice Circle and as he watched the heads on spikes disappear past eye-shot in his rear-view mirror, he lamented that once more he was not there as sacrifice for all to see. What went wrong? Was he not worthy? Had he not divined the day? Had the bones blessed by Sal himself not read in his favor? No, it wasn’t Sal, it wasn’t the bones. Bob had just read them wrong. No, no, wait. Couldn’t be. It must be the bones. Or maybe it was a hex. A curse. Something or somebody else. However it tumbled out though, he would practice the night rituals and prayers. He would divine the rocks and bones and tarot and tea once more, and surely he would understand. Surely, he would come to know.


Z. M. Darkbloom is a writer living in Southern California, where he enjoys camping, traveling, and musing on the absurdity of humanity’s rich primate heritage.

Whirlwind of Ravens

A poem by Randall Smith


At once muscling
The bones of vernal maples
They rise spontaneous
Cycling in capillary descent
To glut on discarded Tortas
And beef cheeks
Fragrant with corn oil
Behind La Tienda Salvadoreno.

They land singly
Or in pairs
In rhythm
And return
After their allotted time
To the vortex
And they seem at home.

A thousand ravens,
A thousand different days,
Whirlwind in a countervail
To the Earth
Each landing in its allotted time
Each returning to the wind.

That’s another notion…

Unfurled as motion
Within motion
Simple in the suggestion
That the direction
And the endpoint
Of movement
Is unimportant
Only its inevitability
And if both motions stopped,
That of the earth,
Inexorable
Seemingly infinite
And of the whirlwind
Of the ravens
Spontaneous
Quick to vanish
It would lead us to
The fact of
Utter stillness

And the impossibility of
Any seeming
Of any being
Without a centrifuge
And a center point
And inexorable motion
And the orbits of
Ravens
Wound tight
‘round tortas
Would be the same impossibility
We face when we face God.


Randall currently collects his mail in Brooklyn.