Gale Acuff

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has 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). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

Alter Ego

I make good grades in school so when we eat
out on Friday nights and do some shopping,
Father and Mother and I, I get my
allowance--a quarter--after dessert.
It will buy me two comic books at twelve
cents each, and a penny for the sales tax.
I excuse myself as my parents light
their after-supper cigarettes and sip
their second cups of coffee--I'm free now
and out for some Friday night adventure
at the drug store next to the restaurant.

It's 1967--the comics
are on the magazine rack, but lower
than Photoplay and Newsweek and McCall's,
Saga, Argosy, and True and Redbook.
That's good, because I'm small for my age and
can never reach the comics that high up.
I like my heroes in groups--you get more
good guys that way, and often more action,
so I'm looking for the Justice League, and
the Legion of Super Heroes, starring
Superboy, who shatters the barrier
of time to the thirtieth century
from his own pre-World War 2 twentieth.

I look through all the comic books, then take
those two, and find my parents, shopping for
bargains at the Rich's department store.
Actually, Mother's shopping--Father
sits in a chair by a full-length mirror
and tries to keep his eyes open. I walk
into the store and see twofathers, mine

and the one in the mirror, both alike
but not identical. In the mirror
do our reflections take on lives of their
own? Somehow the ones in the looking glass
are invulnerable, can copy us,
and maybe even live forever, but
if they die when we do where's the body?
For all I know they can fly, to boot, but
clear through the time barrier, streak across
the universe--universes?--and go
on always. That's as good as being dead

and gone to Heaven, I suppose. I love both
fathers. One of them loves me or maybe
both do. I don't want to wake either one
but I want to see if I've scuffed my shoes,
which we bought last week--one for ten dollars
and the other one we'll throw in for free,
said the shoe salesman, laughing. A hokey
gag if I've ever heard one. They're for church
and going out in public so I must be
careful not to drag my feet or walk
in mud puddles or dog crap. So I see
in the mirror my alter ego and
I guess that he sees me, too, and maybe
thinks, I see my alter ego out there
--in there?--too. But Mother calls to Father
and me that she's ready to leave and he
opens his eyes and yawns and his double
does, too. When he sees me--I mean Father
One, not Father Two--he says, Hello, Sport.

Then we follow Mother out and I take
one of her packages and Father grips
the other and we flank her as we walk
out into the parking lot. Our spacecraft
--the old Merc, I mean--is out there somewhere.
I'm the first to spot it so I sing out.
I crawl into the back--it's a two-door
--and Father drives us home. The sun's down and
the baseball game's on the radio and
I listen for a while--I'm saving my heroes
for bedtime, when I put on my pj's
--my uniform, I guess--and get in bed
and read about people who don't exist,

and follow their exploits as if they do.
I figure that what makes Superboy strong
is his secret identity--Clark Kent
--and not earth's lighter gravity or rays
from a yellow sun. No, it's what his folks
did for him--found his little spaceship and
adopted him and showed him how to use
his powers and encouraged him to do

good. My parents are like Ma and Pa Kent
in that way, and although I'm not super
I can still fight evil, even if good
is sometimes a lot less interesting.
I must use my powers just for what's right.
I hope my mirror image does the same
but I guess I'll never know. If he's bad
he'll still need me, else he'll never grow up.
I watch my father shave one day and ask
Is that you in there, or are you out here?
Whom are you addressing, Sir, he asks me.
But they both ask me. And four of us laugh.

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