by Gale Acuff
Here in school I’m supposed to learn to read
and write and do all those tricks with numbers
that I’ve heard tell about but can’t figure,
adding, subtracting, multiplying, and
dividing. They’re going to give me twelve
years to learn all this, I guess. And then I
graduate. I should be 18 by then.
And then, my folks say, it’s off to college.
That’s another four years. (Uncle Sammy
says it took him seven but he’s still proud).
If I want to be a doctor, lawyer,
or any other kind of rich goober,
I’ll have to do another four-to-eight.
Dr. Gale. I’ll have been in school-prison
for more years than I have fingers and toes,
or almost. And I still can’t write my name
and we’ve been at it here, on the first day,
for almost six hours. I didn’t eat much
lunch because it’s not like I get at home,
and I’ve never played with so many kids
before like I did at recess. Kickball.
Jump-rope. Red Rover. Hide and Go Seek..
Softball. Soccer. Then back in the classroom
to draw and finger paint, then wash our hands
and pee and wash our hands again (which made
me want to pee again). Then to our names.
But first the alphabet: I’m glad to know
that my name is in there somewhere, all four
letters of the first. I practice and I
practice until I get G-A-L-E.
Yes, that’s me down there, what I look like in
letters. I don’t look so bad. All at once
it’s time to count, so we switch to numbers.
Teacher starts us off and we get to 10
but fewer of us can keep up. She’s got
the ab-a-cus to help us all along,
and it can count to outer space, darned near.
We’re about to the moon when the bell rings
and it’s time to take everything we’ve learned
home. I don’t live far so I walk, alone,
while the other kids get on orange buses
with automatic doors and STOP signs that
swing out and, I guess, halt traffic, so kids
can get off and walk to their houses. When
I reach mine my dog starts barking but I
don’t take it personally–I’ve been gone
the better part of the day. I go in
and Mother asks How was your day today?
I can spell my name, I say, and count up
to the sky, or pretty near, and jump rope
with the best of them, and draw an airplane.
That’s wonderful, she says. Then I throw up
on the kitchen floor. I didn’t do it
on purpose and I could never have made
the bathroom in time. I’m sorry, Mother,
I say. My dog tries to lick it up but
she shoos him outside. It’s been a long day
and now that I’ve started learning things there’s
no going back–at least not until I
graduate in twelve years. Mother puts me
to bed. Too much knowledge, she says, as she
takes my temperature. Yes, ma’am, I say
–I’m so smart it hurts. Then I fall asleep
and wake in time for supper. I come down
from my attic bedroom and Father’s there
at the kitchen table. Well, well, he says,
Feeling better, I hope. Have fun at school?
I vomit on the table. Great John God,
he cries. Get your little butt back upstairs.
I go and fall asleep again and rise
at midnight. Even the dog’s asleep. I
get a piece of paper and a crayon.
By moonlight I try to write his name, just
to show him. I want to be a teacher.