Thursday 5 February 2015

3 Poems by Gale Acuff


In Sunday School today Miss Hooker said
that Jesus is coming soon so I need
to get ready by stopping my sinning
and getting myself saved and trying to
save others by bringing them to Jesus,
too. Whew. All I want is to get through school
and graduate, maybe go to college
or at least get a decent job and make
some money so that I can get married
and buy a pickup truck and a house and
a few babies and now Miss Hooker says
there's more to life than living and dying,
there's where I'll spend eternity, she means
after I die but the truth is I don't
really want to, I like it fine right here
on earth, but if I've got to go then I've
got to go and it's a matter of where,
Miss Hooker says, Heaven with the good dead
souls or Hell with the bad but why do I
feel that there are more folks down in Hell than
up in Heaven and that I'll know my share
of them below? I'm only ten years old
so I've got some time until I die, if
I don't die sooner than I expect but
you never know, Miss Hooker says, when God
will call you, back to Him she means, and by
having you die. After class today I

asked Miss Hooker what's the use of being
born and growing up if in the end there
really is an end? I don't follow you,
she said. I mean, I said, being alive
just to die at almost any time seems
like such a waste--either get God to stop
babies from being born, or let them live
forever and if the earth gets too run
over with people, send them to other
planets. Miss Hooker took her glasses off
and put them on again and said, The ways
of the Lord are mysterious, Gale, and
you must have faith and try to be good so
you'll go to Heaven and live forever
the only kind of living that matters
even though you have to die to get it
--oh, you can live forever in Hell, too,
but you won't enjoy it, so make your choice.
I said, Yes ma'am and Goodbye and walked
home, it's only half a mile, and when
our house came into view I knew that I
was lost and that if Jesus came back then
He'd know His way around much better than
I. That's pretty damn good for crucified.

Be Ye Therefore Perfect

I'm going to go to Hell when I die,
I can just feel it. It's getting warmer
in here, inside my skin and soul, I mean,
but then it's early Sunday afternoon
and I'm just free from Sunday School class and
my teacher, Miss Hooker, telling us all
she knows about God for another week.
I walk to church and I walk home as well
and though I'm hungry I'm taking my time
because that's what God does on Sundays, too,
rests from what He did the past six days. He
can't go to Hell but I will because I
sin enough for a dozen people much
older, I'm only 10, so Miss Hooker
warns me every Sunday that I must
repent and get saved so that when I die
I won't go to Hell and burn forever
and ever. The choice is yours, she says.
The problem with sin is that it can be
a lot of fun and I don't like to be
bored, no kid does, that's for grownups, they're paid
for that and all I get for allowance
once a week is twenty-five cents. Jesus
paid the price for my sins, Miss Hooker says,
and that must come to a pile of quarters
but still I can never pay the debt off
and in fact I can still go to Hell since
I have to show God that I'm serious
about being a better person, and
if I die in sin, which means I didn't
ask God to forgive me for my latest
transgression, then I'll wake up in Hell and
like I said before I'll burn forever.
If I could sin just enough to have kicks
but still get into Heaven when I croak
then not only could I make a million
bucks and beat the system but people would
remember me, not that I'd be a saint
but somebody might name a school for me
or a baseball field or a scholarship
or a government building or even
monument. I'd be the best of being
halfway between God and ordinary folks
and pretty cool besides. I said so to
Miss Hooker after class today but she
told me, All is vanity, vanity,
and then I'll see you next week, God-willing,
Gale. So God may kill me off for being
too cute. Be ye therefore perfect, she means.
Hell, I already am--that's the damned point.


I don't know why I was born--not to write
poems, that's for damned sure. But in Sunday School
Miss Hooker says that we're all here to serve
God and we do that by serving other
people so we all end up serving one
another, or should. I'm in the third grade
and serve myself, I guess, by trying
to pass so not to be left behind but
to go forward, with everybody

else,on to the City of God, she says
that Matthew Arnold says, whoever he
is, or was, and maybe Saint Augustine
or Saint Somebody-or-other--sometimes
Sunday School's like education and I
get enough of that five days a week. But
on Saturdays I pretty much rest, like
God does on Sundays, at least at our church
and yet at the end of class my mind's not

right, those saints and sinners from the Bible
all fighting it out again and I still
can't figure how God can be three-in-one
although I get it that Certs is two mints
in one and on Father's workbench is some
oil that's also three-in-one and The Who
sing that one plus one equals one--not two
--so no wonder Miss Hooker says the world
is fallen and we're all born into sin
if by sin she means confusion, I am,
confused I mean. So after class I stole

up to her when all my classmates had split
and asked her how I can get saved without
never having any fun again but
the cornball kind, like on Father Knows Best
and The Brady Bunch. She wanted to pray
with me right there on the lineoleum
but I said I couldn't, if I tear my
Sunday trousers again I'm in for it.
Then she started to cry, it's called weeping
in the Good Book, which was catching, so I
did, too. I hope nobody saw, I mean
God especially. I still have my pride.


Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Concho River Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Arkansas Review, Carolina Quarterly, Poem, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, 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).

Gale has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.


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