“Underdog” by Gale Acuff

I have two broken legs and my dog has
mange. I can’t walk, and he’s losing his hair,
or fur, or whatever the hell it’s called.
I’ve been bowlegged. My parents agreed
to an operation to straighten them,
my legs, I mean. So at the end of school
and the beginning of the summer of
’71–I’m 15 then–I’m in
the hospital for ten days. Back then, they
straightened legs the old-fashioned way–sawed them
below the knees, reset them, put me in
irons–casts, I mean–all the way up to
my groin. Have to piss, I use a pitcher.
When I need to dump I have a bedpan
that my mother helps me with. A shit job,
for sure. I can hear her emptying it
into the toilet. Wonder if she looks.
If she vomits, I never hear her. She’s
81 now, in 2005; she
lived through me. Once a day my sister sets
Pogo, my mutt, into the bathtub. She
says he never fights the water. She has
some mange shampoo. Not that she has mange, too.
First, she rinses him. Then she lathers him.
Rinses. Repeats. She towels him dry. She brings
him to me on my cot. He drops from her
onto my impenetrable plaster
feet. You stink. It’s those vet’s chemicals.
Fur–hair?–is missing in a large patch on
his left flank. His skin is purpled. I love
him. He’s going to die but not the way
I expect: Father will wheel me outside
–he’s helped me lift myself into my chair
–and sits with me. He has his Atlanta
–“covers Dixie like the dew”–and
“Piney Woods Pete.” Piney Woods Pete says, Dear
Mr. Editor. . . .I can’t see the fine
print. Something about ‘Nam veterans and
hippies. Where’s the dog? I need some codeine
again. The sun is hot. Hell is my cap?
Son, he says, the spread pages of Section
A shielding him, this morning I found your
Pogo, run over. I went and fetched him
and buried him before I left for work.
I’m sorry. A good obituary,
I think. Oh, I say. Well. I see. All right.
Soon I’m asking to go inside again.
I’m on my back when my sister walks in
to say she’s sorry that the dog’s gone. Thanks,
I say. I’m okay. He was a good dog,
she says. I’m sorry that you bathed him
for nothing. Oh, it was not for nothing,
she says. He liked it and it meant something
at the time. What did it mean, I ask. Oh,
you know, she says. We had hope for him. Hope
didn’t have the mange, I say. Hope didn’t
get smashed by a car. True, she says. But we
didn’t know that then and we couldn’t just
do nothing. You can’t give up. I ain’t gave
up, I yell. Sorry. I mean that no one
knows the future and yet we’re all going
there. I mean, zap–Death. What kind of future
is that? Well, she says, it’s like you escape
death . . . by dying. Yeah, I think I get you,
I say. Like death is inevitable–when’s
what scares us. I’d like to die by being
run over. But first I need to get back
on my feet. I don’t wanna leave like this.
You won’t, she says. At least, I say, you don’t
have to wash the dog. Now I’ve got nothing
to do this time of day, she says. Problem
with this family, I say, is that no one
ever dies, except for dogs, cats, and fish.
And that rabbit of yours, and the chicks that drowned
in their water dish. And the frog we found
on the road and rescued and then it croaked.
I mean, if it happened to us, somehow
I’d be happier. Well, you wouldn’t be
happier, she says. Just wiser, maybe.
I reach for my copy of Doom Patrol.
Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, and Robot
Man, and their wheelchair-bound chief, Niles Caulder.
They’re braver than I and not even real.
And anything bad that happens to them
doesn’t matter because they have no life.
Why do I feel so low when they go down
and am dissatisfied when they get up
again? They must live in Heaven. I half
expect that dog to leap across the page.
Mange Mutt, maybe. Doom Dog. Patrol Pup–I
keep naming him and he will never die.
Somehow I wish that he had never lived.
Maybe, I repeat. He was a good boy.
Kind of stupid but smart enough to die.
I figure he’s looking down at me now
like he’s waiting for me to throw something
for him to chase. A ball. A stick. A bone.

Gale Acuff has had hundreds of poems published in a dozen countries and has authored three books of poetry. His poems have appeared in Ascent, Reed, Arkansas ReviewPoemSlantAethlonFlorida Review, South Carolina ReviewCarolina Quarterly, Roanoke, Danse Macabre, Ohio Journal, Sou’wester, South Dakota ReviewNorth Dakota QuarterlyNew TexasMidwest QuarterlyPoetry MidwestWorcester Review, Adirondack Review, Connecticut River ReviewDelmarva ReviewMaryland Poetry ReviewMaryland Literary Review, George Washington Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Ann Arbor ReviewPlainsongsChiron ReviewMcNeese Review, WeberWar, Literature & the Arts, Poet LoreAble Muse, The Font, Fine Lines, Teach.Write.OracleHamilton Stone Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, Cardiff ReviewTokyo ReviewIndian Review, Muse India, Bombay ReviewWesterly, and many other journals.

One thought on ““Underdog” by Gale Acuff

  1. “Underdog” has a real voice and stands out among recently published poems on this site. It is artfully “artless,” more narrative than poem, yet the shaggy lines fit the subject and create an indelible portrait of both dog and owner. Many long poems break down but this one carries us all the way to its finale.

    Liked by 1 person

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