Poetry: Gale Acuff


Dig it deep enough and you’re in China,
my parents told me. I took the shovel
out below the garden, bent on finding
the other side of the world or bust, and
prepared to go through hell to get there, fight
the Devil on my way, clank him over
the horns and so (I prayed) put out the flames
with his own red blood. By that time I’d meet
some Chinese boy digging down the other way
who’d help me put Beelzebub on ice.
Well, I never made much progress, even
working with gravity. I’d always quit
a couple of feet into the earth, when
I had no strength left to lift out the world
I raised around my head on every side.
I’d hit stones I couldn’t lever loose, or
roots of trees ten feet from their trunk. Down there
is China’s up-here. We’re upside-down to them.

I dreamt I was playing in the garden
—this was the night after my last attempt
—and the earth moved and a shovel plunged through
and a boy about my age appeared. He
made it, successful where I’d failed. I ran
over to congratulate him. He asked
as he sat and looked and sweated
something I didn’t understand but meant
Where am I, Did I make it, Who are you?
I gazed down through the hole and saw a blue
speck at the nadir of the deep and black
and then jumped in, like falling down a well
when there’s no bottom but the top. I fell
for about thirty-seven years and now
I’m here at last. Cultural exchange, call
it. To return I have to fall again,
which means waking or, if I’m blessed, dying
and I hope I never do. Wake, I mean.