Behind the playground, up in the dark woods,

lives a man, my classmates say, who’ll eat us

if we stray there. I’d pay to see that, as

long as it isn’t me he eats. Maybe

Bucky Haggard, who picks on me, or

the little girl who sits behind me and

whispers in my ear how much she loves me.

Yuck. (I turn around and say to her, I

love me, too, but I don’t say so in class.

She cries. You’re just confusing me, she says).

 

When the kickball rolls out into the woods

I’m always the one to rescue it. I

disappear, sometimes, and make them all wait

and fear that I’ve been eaten. Or, I throw

the ball back in–it tears through the bushes I

sneak behind the growth to the other end

of the field and toss it in there, sometimes.

Or I scream and laugh, in different voices,

first my own, of course, and then my father’s

or some other dangerous old man’s. But

 

I always reappear–I don’t believe

in any danger that isn’t my own

making; I’m just mature like that; even

scary movies don’t frighten me too much

and nothing’s much worse than the TV news

every evening, when we all sit around

and watch the box to see just how evil

the world really is. They should bump me up

to second grade, with the older children.

One day the ball will sail into the woods

and I’ll go to retrieve it but I won’t

 

come back, ever–will seek out that old man

and his cave or cottage or lean-to or

hovel, and challenge him. Then he’ll return,

with the ball. They’ll see him staggering from

the woods and walking out, a bloody nose

and a black eye or two, and telling them

There’s a new king of the macabre now.

 

Then he faints and falls and probably dies

among them, standing in a circle and

seeing what it is all children come to

sooner or later. And if they find me

out I’ll pick my teeth with their bones, except

for the girl who sits behind me. My queen.

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, McNeese Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Orbis, and many other journals. He has also authored three books of poetry, all from BrickHouse Press: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

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