Work in Progress


It’s the same poem that I wrote last night but
it’s better. Honestly. You should have seen
last night’s draft. Ugh. And I’ll write it again
–but better still–tomorrow night. If I
could live forever this poem would become
–dare I say it?–better and better. Time
is what does it for me–give me enough
and I promise that I’ll never write worse
than the day before. But the good poets
–maybe I mean the great ones–make of time
nothing less than depth and ignore the length
and I can’t be that good, although I’ve tried.
And I’m 53 now, 54 next
month. So my poem is about being sick


with the flu when I was ten years old
and lying in bed hearing the voices
of the children at my school–I walked there
in the mornings and of course back again,
I mean Mondays through Fridays, not weekends.
If I looked out of my attic bedroom
window I could see the Flag–I’ve
capitalized Flag; that’s how it was
then–and I couldn’t keep food down and had
no appetite and ran a low fever
and couldn’t focus my eyes enough to
read a comic book, even, and Mother
wouldn’t let me watch TV: If you’re well
enough to watch TV, she says, then you’re
well enough to go to school. I’d turn on
my transistor radio and hope for
the Beatles or Beach Boys but all that
talking in between nauseated me.


So in my poem Mother comes to check on me
and feels my forehead: Oh, you’re hot.
she says. You’re burning up. For pity’s sake.
See if you can close your eyes and sleep. Sure,
as if I could sleep with my eyes open
but I don’t say that because she means well
and when I’m sick she’s a little sick, too
–I’m not insensitive, I just don’t know
how to pull that off in the poem. I guess
I missed that workshop. Anyway, she leaves
but as she’s walking through the door (she died
last year, by the way–speaking of walking
through a door), I ask, What does it all mean?
What does what-all mean, she asks. Well, you know,
I say. Life. What does life mean, she says. Yes,
I say–What does it mean? Well, she says, it
means that I’ve got to go downstairs and do
the ironing. That’s not funny, I say.
Sure it is, she says, and serious, too.
I’ll be in to check on you later. She
goes downstairs. Her footsteps sound lighter. Then


I don’t hear them at all. Tomorrow night
I’m going to take a whack at just how
I react to her reply as I lie
there without anything to do but live.
I mean that she’s onto something and I
haven’t quite figured it out but I’ll sleep
on it and at about this time tomorrow
night I’ll try again. But you won’t like it.


© Gale Acuff