It's just poetry, it won't bite

Eye for an Eye

07.21.19 Posted in today's words by

Gale Acuff’s most recent poem to appear here was “Poverty” (June 2019)

Eye for an Eye
By Gale Acuff
My mother’s lying on the bed. Dying.
The world ended when you were born, she says.
Think about it. She loses consciousness,
a sort of false death. At least she’s honest.
So I think about it. Perhaps she means
to be nice. The world ended when you were
born. Well. On the one hand, she was happy
until she had me—in that way her world
ended. She felt responsible. She knew
that she’d never be free until I was
graduated. And then she would be free
again. On the other hand, everything
changed for the better, the old world for new.
I’m not sure what she means so I wait, as
I waited when she took me shopping and
I sat in a vinyl chair not far from
the ladies’ dressing room. The door opens

and she steps out. What do you think, she says,
in the tone that warns her mind’s already
made up and my opinion is pointless.
I’m eight years old so I don’t really care.
I start to say, You can’t wear green with blue,
but I’m way too late—the door shuts again.
She comes out in the dress we arrived in,
new skirt and blouse hung over her left arm.
Come, she says. I don’t get up because she’s
got to pay at the register and that
gives me a few more minutes just to sit
and wonder if God knows that Adam and
Eve, their descendants, I mean, invented
the department store. What would God think of
all this, I ask her, as she’s feeling for
her BankAmericard. All what, she says,
not looking at me as she slaps plastic
back in her purse. I sneak a look: junk,
and tissues with old lipstick. A pencil
—no, it’s a pen. And cigarettes, lighter,
spare change, and something she calls a compact,
round, with a round mirror. She takes it out
as if she’s a secret agent. She pops it open and spies
herself. Damn, she says. I’ve got new wrinkles.
I look at her looking. What are you
looking at, she says. She snaps it shut. Huh?
Nothing, I say. (But I spied a hairbrush
and comb, and some stamps, and a Zero bar).
When Mother revives I’m just waking from
the strange presence of a memory. I
make eye-contact—it’s an eye for an eye

but maybe not the way the Bible means.
I yawn. Wake up, she says. I don’t have long.
I start to cry. Oh, don’t say that, Mother.
You’ve got many good years left. You bastard,
she says. Don’t bullshit me. You’ll never die,
I say. You’ll go to Heaven. Heaven’s for
losers, she says. Hell’s where it’s happening.
Come closer. I do. Sit here beside me.
I do. She plays with my hair. I’ll miss you,
she says. But not that bitch you married, not
my two obnoxious grandchildren—I hate
that whole generation. But I’ll miss you.
Well, I say. I’ll miss you, too. More bullshit,
she says. Christ, you make me tired. Go away.
I rise and go to the door. I’m waiting
to be called back. I turn around and she’s
giving me the finger. Flipping me off.
She laughs. I’ve always wanted to do that,
she says. I’m sorry, I say. You’re sorry,
she echoes. You’re not half a sorry as
I am, she says. You’re not half as
sorry as you will be. She grins—not smiles—and her eyes
shut. Hmm, I think. Is she dead? I go back
to her but I’m scared. I push the button
to signal the nurse, who answers. I think
that my mother’s dead, I say. A nurse comes and looks
and takes Mother’s pulse. (I wish she’d take mine).
I’m sorry, sir, she says. Your mother’s gone.
Okay, I say. I understand. But I
don’t. She’s still alive, in a different way,
the way that can never be killed unless
her grandchildren never have children. That’s
too much to hope for and unfair. Mother
cheated death. She’s watching me. I feel it.
She’s everywhere, like Jesus or Santa.
And the ghost’s she’s giving up will never die.
At the funeral they can’t bury her
deep enough for me. At the reception
I drink too much and pass out on the bed,
with all the coats and scarves and hats and gloves.
That night I dream of Mother, talking to
me. You’re pathetic, she says. Can’t you do
anything right? I wake but it’s my wife
calling me. Not Mother. Not God. Honey,
she says. Stop talking in your sleep. Sorry,
I say. Rough day. She’s already asleep.
I go to the window and stare at night
with all its stupid stars and the dumb moon.
What’s a dead mother to them? I return
to bed and put my arm around my wife.
Not now, she murmurs. We just buried your
mother. Yes, I say. Let’s do it again.

One Response to “Eye for an Eye”

  1. Sandy Patton says:

    Eye for an Eye, left me with all sorts of feelings — sadness, guilt, anger, even made me smile several times. You brought your poem, literally to life, with your excellent imagery and honest emotions. Just a wonderful piece!

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