Empathy

Gale Acuff

My father hurls a rock which hits a dog
which wasn't looking and my father
didn't think that he could hit him that far

away. Wham, upside of the (dog's) head. He
leaps away in terrible pain. Father
turns to me and says, I'm sorry, Son, I

didn't think I'd even come close and just
wanted to scare him off our property.

I don't remember what I said or if

I said anything. As I look back, he
was careless. The dog was careless, too. I
know that Father was just trying to warn him,

but when the warning becomes an attack
and it's all accidental, what to say?
He might've hollered at the dog to git

but he didn't – he just bent over for
a rock, and it was a big one, hard-to,
as if someone had placed it there, handy.

So he must have looked down for a stone to
throw and, whoops, there it be. How could he not
reach for it? I remember he reared back

on his right foot and held the thing on high,
then heaved it, but whether he took aim, I
don't know and never asked. Deliberate

or not, he looked like a natural prospect.
That dog, I wanted to follow him, hug
and comfort him, cry as he licked the tears

from my jowls. Forgive Father, I'm saying,
for he knows not what he do. Does. Did. Which
is a kind of lie, because he knew but

was just hapless. I know it hurts awful,
I whisper. The poor mutt's got a headache
and maybe even a fractured skull

and I can't ease the pain for neither of us.
Father's hurting, too, but he's not talking.
In fact, now he's smoking a Lucky Strike.

It wasn't a sin but it was damned close.
When his back is turned I pick up the rock.
It's too heavy for me to throw but he

 – he'd fired a strike just like it was nothing.
It's almost as big as my hand and when
I fall back to throw it it knocks me over.

 
 
 

about the writer

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Gale Acuff has had poetry published in many journals and has authored three books of poetry. He currently teaches university English in the Palestinian West Bank.


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