by Gale Acuff
Is that me at the end of my pencil?
part of the pencil, at least--the lead.
mean. And these letters aren't me
but somehow signify, the
curves and strokes.
They certainly don't make what I look
up here, looking down. Teacher's been at this
long time. Hold your in-stru-ment like this,
Use your free hand to hold the paper
hand? Then my writing hand's a slave.
That makes sense--I
live in Georgia. Negroes
used to work for white people for
It's 1962--now they work for
next to nothing.
Like Billie Ruth, who cleans
for us three times a week, and
to boot. My parents work. I come home at
or so. Annie Ruth leaves at
four. Sometimes someone, another
picks her up. She's on the porch. The driver
gets out of the car. Heck, he could
if he wanted to--we're
like Negroes, anywhere. Sometimes
drives her home and I ride in the back seat.
in the back seat, he orders. Yes, sir,
I say. But you
don't need to tell me. I
know. Attaboy, he says. I
smile. We take her home,
across rusty railroad tracks. The
are falling down. Billie Ruth's needs painting.
let her off. I get in the front seat
now. Father, can we
paint Annie Ruth's house
for her? Uh, he says. Well,
Not today. No, not today, I say.
can write my own name, I say. Well, good for you,
says. That's really something. Yeah, I say.
Yes, sir--that's really something. I
can hold the pencil good
and the paper
it writes on so it won't fall off my desk
I can make the letters in my name
and then I put the pencil
down and hold
the paper in front of my face and see
letters--they make my name, you know--and
the light that
comes through from behind. Can I
show Billie Ruth tomorrow?
Sure, why not,
he says. Tomorrow comes, like the clean
of my paper, fresh and not written on, and
home with my piece of paper and
my name behind my back and go
the kitchen and say, Miss Billie Ruth, look
got to show you. I hold it up
and she looks and tweaks her
says, My, my, would you look at that,
do, I always do what my elders bid,
if it's not upside down, so I
turn me over, I mean my name,
There, looky here again, and she does, and
What's it signify, and I say, Why,
it's me. You
can read, can't you? But she can't
--I'm sorry that I asked
her so I say,
I don't write too good yet--it's hard to
out, I know. And she smiles and I smile
she leans over to me like I'm her own
God bless the child, and I think,
child?--oh, she means me--and I'm red-faced.
Father comes home and I greet him and
say, Hello, Father, God
bless the child and
God bless you. Then he tickles me and
God bless us everyone. That's from some book.