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Poetry By Gale Acuff

The beatnik trope includes pseudo-intellectualism and a cartoonish depiction of real-life people along with a spiritual quest

High Fidelity

So I’m sitting in a pizzeria
in Haikou, China, having the Milan
Special. Cher’s singing Sooner or later
we all sleep alone, as an old local
shoulder-poles brooms and mops to east and west
and his conical hat shadows his face.
It’s heavy, man. Wonder if she wrote it
–Cher, I mean. Wrote this disco song, I mean.
Nah. Wonder if Sonny wrote it. Double
nah: he died in a skiing accident.
They’re playing the CD. They started it
when I sat down–the first diner today,
it seems. American, they thought. Must love Cher.
It’s like she’s singing to me. She’s husky
now, her voice. Sort of like Rod Stewart but
with smoother tonsils. Gravel gone pebble, or
carpet gone tile. My pizza’s a circle.
I’m waiting for my new glasses to be
made. I want round lenses this time. Perfect
circles, a la John Lennon’s.
Cher sounds good for sixty-five or how
-ever old she is. Gregg Allman.
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Cher.
Gypsies, tramps, and thieves, we’d hear it from the
people of a town, they’d call us. And

(continued; no break)

every night all the men would come around
and lay their money down. Her mother was
a sleaze, I guess. I wonder what that’s like.
The cars skim by on cornea tires, hub
-cap irises. I used to play my I
Got You, Babe 45 until Mother
hid it. She’d broken it for good measure
in case I found it, which I did, in a
shoebox in her closet, under her heels.
Red heels. So I played my Bang, Bang record
instead. She nicked that, too. For my birthday
she got me the soundtrack to Jungle Book.
I unwrapped it, hoping for Rubber Soul
or Something Else or some Rolling Stones.
I said, What the hell is this? Genuine
disbelief. Watch your language, young man. I
hurt her feelings. I didn’t mean to. But
really. Come on, now. When I finish lunch
I have a masticated circle in
-side me and a circle left on my plate.
Which is my plate. I gulp some cola and
the cloth coaster sticks to the bottom of
the glass and there’s a condensation-ring
on the (round) table. What’s with things that start
and end the same place as you go around?
Something’s odd but I don’t even drink
anymore. Cher’s been techno-popping for
at least an hour. I’ve heard some songs twice.
That’s alright. That’s alright, mama. That’s cool.
The world goes around on a spindle. You
age because you go along with it. It
goes around the sun. The solar system
goes around something else. Everything goes
around. The music of the spheres, man. They

(continued; no break)

were right, those old European dudes, but
for the wrong reasons. And then they thought that
the circles were machined to perfection.
Uh uh. I lost my plastic 45
adapter to my parents’
hi-fi, compensate by trying to eye
-ball the center of the disc, estimate
where the pole should poke up through the flat earths
and grooves of my sister’s tune collection
–Poor Little Fool, Rock Around the Clock, She
Loves You, Time is on My Side
You Really/ Got Me, No Particular Place to Go,
Ride the Wild Surf, Little Surfer Girl, Bad
to Me, From a Window/ Needles and Pins.
Also imperfect but the needle keeps
the song on-track. Which only goes to show
something. I’m not sure what but it’s something
to sing about. Round only looks round. God
doesn’t want perfection, it’s people think
they need perfection. No wonder there’s sin.
I want dessert but the freezer’s broken,
the waiter says. At least I think that’s what
he said. He might’ve said, The cook threw up
on your pizza for all I know. If he smiles
for a reason, that’s too perfect, and I
don’t believe in perfect anymore but
I sure as sugar believe Cher. Saw her
on Leno one night. Sitting on Jay’s couch
with Will Smith. Going on about how she
thinks she’s not in the same league with Streisand
and Minelli and maybe Shirley Bassey.
Will laughs that bass laugh and says, “Ah, but they’re
not Cher.” Applause–heaps of it. Gratitude
beaten out with the palms and handed to
her. Like a magic trick. I think I’ll cry
but Leno cracks something forgettable
and we cut to a Buick commercial.

(continued; no break)

So I pick up my new glasses from down
the street and try them on and I look like
a little owl, just like a little owl,
in the (oval) mirror and there’s the past
behind me, looking over my shoulder.
They say that nothing’s lost. Every damned sound
ever made is off to the races in
outer space. My Favorite Martian ‘s made it
to Pluto by now. Out in the boonies
someone with five ears and twelve eyes and ten
legs is hearing Oh, the humanity!
For all they know, Sonny and Cher are still fab.
The Turtles are still happy together.
Warren G. Harding swears by normalcy.
And they’re right. I was on the Popeye Club
once–WSB, Channel 2, in
Atlanta. Was I six? Glopwap Imsnirtz
of Tau Ceti or Spermaceti or
Vermicelli or wherever hears me
tell Officer Don and Orville the Dragon
that my favorite sport is baseball and when
I grow up I want to be a cowboy
way out West and bust broncos and hello
to my neighbors Cal Jean and Shorty and
Miss Cantrell my teacher and Mom and Dad
and I like Superman and Astro Boy and
Deputy Dawg. And who else? Don prompts me.
The kid on the right whispers to me—I
can feel that he’s not moving his lips. Oh,
and Popeye, I say. And Orville. And you?
I receive a Goody Bag: a Fanta,
Onyums, Snickers, chocolate cupcake, Tootsie
Rolls. I eat them all on the way back to
the suburbs. I vomit when I get home.
They make me drink my milk anyway and

(continued; no break)

I vomit again. Too much excitement,
my mother tells my father. During every
cartoon, Officer Don leaves the studio.
All the kids are gabbing. Only I watch
Popeye eat his spinach and pound Bluto
into a ball the size of Sputnik, then
bat him into outer space. I’m leaving
the optician’s and nearly fall over
the mop-and-broom man sitting on the stoop.
I feel sorry for him and pity me
so I buy one of each and I need both
hands to carry them. When I take them up
again I’ll call the mop Cher because it’s
tall and skinny and the broom by my name
and, though we’ll never last, the beat goes on.

–Gale Acuff


About The Author:

I have had poetry published in Ascent, Coe Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. I have authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008).

I have taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.


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