• Gale Acuff

Selected Poetry by Gale Acuff


Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons


I'd like to say that when I die I'll go

to Heaven but I just can't swear to it

because I sin outstandingly for ten

years old and I don't

know how to quit, not

that they don't try to

help me out in Sunday

School, Miss Hooker I mean, my teacher, who's

25 and getting old but I'll bet

that when she kicks

she'll go to Heaven sure.

She says that death

can come at any time

so it behooves me,

that's her favorite word,

bet she found it in the Bible, to be

prepared, which means to believe that Jesus

is the Son of God,

Who was crucified

for our sins,

and ask Him to forgive us

for our sins even though

He died for them

anyway--I don't understand all of

it but that's why they call it religion,

I guess. And every time I sin,

she says,

Miss Hooker I mean, I crucify Him

again. Ouch. Last night Father whipped me

for staying up too late when

I've got God

to worship on Sunday morning,

and the week

before I showed up here late and he said,

Boy, you may not believe this, before he

commenced, but this is going to hurt me

more than it will you and

if that's so then

the old guy must be invulnerable.

Anyway, I guess that I hurt Jesus

more than He does me by making sin bad.

Miss Hooker said in class this morning that

Jesus, in some garden--Jehoshaphat,

Geronimo, Garanimal, I can't

remember but hope

that's not another

sin, I have so damn many already,

they just keep coming,

like summer hits

on the radio--I mean that Jesus

suggested to God that

He wasn't hot

on drinking from

the cup of sacrifice

or something like that, religion again,

but He went through with it anyway, so

the least we can do

(but she was staring

right at me as she said it)

was not sin

if we can help it and

most of the time

we can, Miss Hooker says,

though nobody's

perfect, and then ask God

in the name of

Jesus to forgive us (me again). I

do try like Hell but when

you're ten years old

you're pretty much eternal anyway,

for a while at least.

But if I should die

in sin, I'll wake up dead in

Hell and Don't

say I didn't warn you,

Miss Hooker says.

So after class today I asked her if

she sinned when she was young and she answered

I'm still young, Gale, so I said,

Oh, I know,

I mean when you were my age, and she said,

Whenever I sinned

I always asked God

to forgive me, so I asked, Can I sin

all the same and ask to forgive me

and He will? She answered, If you're trying

to fool Him you'll fail--He's too smart for that.

So I said, Well, if He's so smart, then why

was I ever born?

Miss Hooker answered,

To be born again.

Religion three times.


Miss Hooker says

that if I don't believe

in Jesus, that He's the

Son of God and

died for my sins so that

I wouldn't go

to Hell to be tortured forever, which

is all I deserve, then the meaning

of the Cross won't stick and I'll go to Hell

all because

I'm too stupid not to get

saved, it's real simple,

just bow my head and

pray the Sinner's Prayer,

which I try now

and then but damned

if I can remember

the words. I told Miss Hooker

so after

Sunday School today and she pointed her

finger at me, not the go-to-Hell one

but the pointer-one, what's that called? and then

sort of wiggled it

east and west but not

a sexy wiggle,

more like a worm's head

when it pops itself out of the ground to see if

a robin's nearby. Do worms have heads? Hell,

maybe it's his butt

he's sticking out and

I could ask Miss Hooker but she'd just say

Read your Bible. Does that mean it's in here,

I'd ask but she'd just tell me again,

Get right with God, Gale. Anyway, while she

was wiggling his finger--

or is it wriggling?

--she asked, Shall we take it to the Lord in

prayer? though it

wasn't a question, more

like an order, but I disobeyed and

said, I gotta get home and

feed my folks

because they don't come to church at all, they

sleep late and when I get back they're slouching

at the kitchen table, slurping Sanka

and puffing Parliaments,

they're not even

dressed yet. They're sort of like my own children

and they need a mother. Miss Hooker's fit

but a little too preachy. I need her.

How will I know if the worm's not a boy?


Miss Hooker says that

I'm going to die

one day--she's my Sunday School teacher so

I guess she knows--

and then go to Heaven

to meet God and

He's going to decide,

if He hasn't already,

where I'll spend

Eternity, which is such a long time,

Miss Hooker says,that

it's not really time

at all, which means

it lasts forever. Fair

enough, I guess, and

there are two places

I can go to. I'll be in the first one

--Heaven that is--for a bit, but if I've

sinned too much, which must mean past my quota,

then God sends me to Hell, much worsethan death

itself, Miss Hooker says, which means Heaven

is better, better than

death I mean but

also better than Hell, maybe even

better than earth and Hell combined. I was

going to raise my hand

and ask her if

that's so but she's a

pretty fast talker

and beautiful, too--red hair and green eyes

and freckles--so I

get distracted and

I wonder if that's what lust is or if

I have to wait until I'm older to

find out. I'd like to

ask herthat, too, but

after class might be better--

in here we're

all ten years old and

some of us not so

mature. Anyway, I go to meet God

like Miss Hooker says and He hunts me up

in the Book of Life, my name I mean, and

if I'm not there, my name again, that's rough

and woe unto me so

it's down to Hell

and the Lake of Everlasting Fire, where

I'll drown and burn both at once. I'd like to

see that in a movie. Wow. But if I

rate then I stay in Heaven forever,

which sounds like a pretty good deal except

there's no sin up there

and without some

--at least a little--how

would I know how

good goodness is? But I guess that's not my

problem, at least not up there,

only down

here. I really don't want to die at all

but I bet I have no choice--I had no

choice about being born, either.

If God

had asked me,

Do you want to live, before

I was born I mean--if that's possible,

if I could've been alive somehow in

Heaven before I was alive after

being born--I might've answered, Not if

I have to die,

it sounds like that might

hurt. But if He ever asked me,

I don't

remember. I hope

that's not a sin. Me,

I'd like to die and

come back here again,

just to see what

it's like over there, just

to see for myself and return to tell

everybody what's in store for them

and if it's true what we hear down here

and what the Bible says

and the old hymns

and the preachers on TV,

but I doubt

that anyone would

listen and believe.

I guess that's what you call a voice crying

in the wilderness. That could get me killed.


In Sunday School today

I slipped away

early when Miss Hooker

was distracted

by the Lord's Prayer,

in fairness to me

it was the second one of the hour, I

missed the third and last

but was present for

the very first one,

in fact Miss Hooker

called on me to lead

the class in it and

her, too, it wasn't hard,

I've memorized

it backwards and forwards and sideways but

halfway through the second one, the second

Lord's Prayer I mean, when all heads were bowed

and all eyes closed, I tiptoed out, not real

easy in my



'em-once-a-week Florsheims

and then I moved

slowly down the plywood

and two-by-four prefab

stairway in front

of our portable building and then I

was walking pretty quickly home when I

heard everyone behind me shout Amen

and and Amen again,

that seconding

by Miss Hooker sounding lonesome but then

I was so far away

and someday we'll

get married,

when I'm a few years older

than my 10 and even if she ages

maybe when I'm

grown it won't signify,

we'll just take it easy together like

Mother and Father do, they don't talk much

and when they do it's usually to

me, is that what they call menopause

or menagerie or menage a trois,

I'll ask Miss Hooker next week

but I walked

out in order to get home

in time for Lou

Thesz against

Gene Kiniski for the World

Heavyweight Championship

--okay, it

may be phony like Father

says but real

enough in some other

way I can't quite

put my finger on.

I'm in love with her,

Miss Hooker I mean, it is and isn’t

real, a lot like love is wrestling,

it's fixed

but you can still get hurt,

take the Bible,

please, everything in it's

so Miss Hooker

swears but like I told her after church last

week not only are we

going to die but

but we can get hurt, too,

whether we're up

there in the squared circle

or in the stands

or the wooden chairs

belting the ringside

where you pay a lot

more to be close to

the action, sometimes

even part. I give.


Time to go to bed,

I tell Miss Hooker,

my Sunday School teacher

and my wife, in

a dream last night.

This morning I'll see her

again, I mean at church

and in class where

we'll commence with the Lord's Prayer, alpha,

and wind up the same way,

that's omega,

and in between I'll be studying her

so hard that I'll forget

what she's saying,

which is as good a definition of

love as any other one

I've heard and

I owe it all to her, Miss Hooker, but

maybe to God, too,

and Jesus, Father

and Son and but still They're kind of the same and

that pretty much sums up

what religion

is. So in my dream

last night we retired,

that means we went to bed but stayed awake

for a few minutes, shooting the breeze, when

suddenly I woke

but outside my dream

so that Miss Hooker was gone. Was she ever

really there?

After Sunday School today

I'm going to

screw up my courage and

ask her what the truth is. I'm only

10 to her 25 but if I'm brave,

say like David, I can slay Goliath.

Maybe I won't

mention that part about

being in bed together. Maybe I'll

put her in a chair beside it, reading

the Bible to me or singing "Nearer

My God to Thee."

I only want to know

how much which wasn't my own doing she

was with me, and

I'll repeat the question.

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Florida Review, Slant, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has had three books of poetry published, by BrickHouse Press: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.