I love Miss Hooker but one day she’ll die
and go to Heaven and live with the angels
and I’ll still be down here with my demons,
here on earth I mean, where nothing’s perfect,
just perfect as it ought to be, I guess,
until Jesus calls again to make it
pure, Miss Hooker says. She’s got fifteen years
on me and the only way I’ll see her
again is to die myself, that’s easy,
but I’m not so sure I’ll go to Heaven
even though she wants me to. More likely
Hell, the place for sinners, the other place
I mean, not including earth, there’s torture
there and what she calls gnashing of teeth and
plenty of fire and nothing to douse it.
If I want to do better I’d better
stop my sinning so I’ll go to Heaven.
Heaven would be worth it, too, just to see
the look on Miss Hooker’s face when I show
- Maybe she’ll tell me she was afraid
I wouldn’t make it. Ye of little faith
I’ll reply, with just the slightest smile, and
we’ll have a good laugh, that is if we have
mouths there. We might be just all-angel though
in our new bodies, like she teaches, but
she really can’t describe them so I guess
we’ll find out when the time comes. I don’t want
to die but Miss Hooker says there’s no choice,
only the choice of where I’m going to
spend eternity. I thought death was death
but I guess there’s more to dying than dead.
And I’d follow Miss Hooker anywhere
just like during “Onward, Christian Soldiers”
when she leads our class in a march around
the church-house. We’re soldiers for Jesus then,
slaughtering sins along the way but I
go home from Sunday School later and sin
again. After class today I confessed
- Try harder, she said–pray, and I’ll pray
for you. She could be dead this time next week.
Or I could. Or we both could. I’ll come back
to church next time to see. If God calls her
home maybe He won’t wait long before He
calls me, too. It’s a sin to call myself.
Every night I tell Miss Hooker how much
I love her, which isn’t easy because
she isn’t with me in my bed. She’s my
Sunday School teacher and nobody loves
her more than I do. That’s what I tell God
in the dark after I say the Lord’s Prayer.
Then I go to sleep holding my pillow,
my other pillow, close, pretending it’s
she. I’m 10 years old but not old enough
to court her–she’s 25, at least, and
there’s nothing I can do but wait and when
I’m old enough she’ll be that much older
and probably married by then and where
will I be? Old enough to stray, I guess,
find another gal closer to my age
but I don’t want that to happen so each
night I pray to God I’ll wake up older
or that Miss Hooker will wake up younger
but that’s not what you’d call realistic,
it’s more like miraculous and even
that’s possible, I guess, if it’s hunky
with God. I don’t know why not: I could pray
for something even that far out of reach,
that I wake tomorrow with Miss Hooker
in place of the pillow that I squeeze, or
even that being 10 is just a dream
and that she and I are really married
and so in love it makes us want to hurl.
Sometimes I wonder whether it matters,
if I get what I want or not, because
once I have it how would I long for it
anymore? Maybe there’s something after
the answer to a prayer, something else
to hope for, and if I got lucky twice,
I’d probably be yearning a third time
and never get what I want but at least
I’d have that much for as long as I live
and, for all I know, well after I die.
It’s when you want something that you get it
more than if you got it after wanting,
like tasting an apple that’s out of reach
–your mouth waters and your tongue is the fruit.
Miss Hooker is no apple, not even
a cherry, my favorite, but she hangs
where I can see her and if I get her
now I’m not too sure what I’d do with her
except, when I’m old enough, marry her
and have some babies, though I don’t know how
but I can learn and she is a teacher.
Still, I pray each night that God will make us
one, and maybe my prayer’s been answered
in some way that I can’t quite figure yet.
Even so, I’m lonely again tonight.
my parents in their bedroom, below mine,
snoring, and the neighbor’s chow barking at
the moon, and the clock radio ticking
on my bedside table, all reminding
me that, somewhere, Miss Hooker’s in her bed
and needs me but it won’t kill her to wait.
One day I’ll be dead and buried behind
our church in our little cemetery
where Grandfather is and Grandmother has
a stone waiting with her name on it and
I’ll have a grave hard by, near my parents
probably so we’ll all be together
if it’s possible to be dead and be
that is, like we are when alive, at least
when we’re not sore at one another though
on the other hand maybe we are and
it’s all right to be angry, maybe it’s
another way of sharing love, after
all, at Sunday School they tell us
to love our enemies and they don’t say
screw our pals but then again Jesus said
something about hating our parents and
maybe other relatives but maybe
He meant that to do what He did we must
ignore what we’re told even if our folks
and family are well meaning or if they
laugh at us for not sinning or at least
we’re willing to leave them behind so that
we can follow Jesus, something like that,
I don’t read the Bible much and I don’t
go to every Sunday School class or church
service but I’m not lazy or stupid,
just lukewarm like it says somewhere else, damn,
it’s difficult to be good, it’s a Hell
of its own, maybe it can’t compare to
the real deal but it’s good preparation
for it so when I go to Hell for my
sins–I don’t stand a chance to make Heaven
–I won’t be wholly surprised and as for
prepping myself for Paradise, it’s like
a pretty good day at school and I passed
a big quiz, maybe not even by much,
and scored at kickball during recess and
for lunch it was spaghetti and all this
happened on a Friday, I started my
weekend right–and no homework, neither–on
Saturday no chores and as for Sunday
morning nothing on TV anyway
and Tang and doughnuts at the end of class
and no tests there, neither, and an extra
doughnut for me if attendance is low.
Don’t say that God didn’t do that. Hell, no.
Jesus I love a lot, they say He died
for my sins at Sunday School, I mean at
Sunday School they say He died for my sins
and I’m good with that, I sin a heap though
how He could die for something I couldn’t
have done then because I wasn’t alive
is beyond me but I guess that’s why we
call it religion, if it really made
sense it would be science but anyway
I forget regular school for the week
-end unless I have homework for Monday
and of course I can’t stay up late on
Saturday night or I’ll wake up Sunday
morning groggy and the same for Sunday
night, I’d wake up in a sour mood for school
but my folks don’t force me to attend church,
I do it just to have something to do
while they sleep late and sometimes when I get
back home damned if they’re not still in bed or
if they’re up they look both sad and funny,
Mother needs to shave and Father forgets
to brush his hair and they’re not dressed
–I mean Father shaves and Mother brushes
–but propped up at the table like two dolls
at my sister’s tea parties and I don’t
even have one, a sister I mean, not
that I know of anyway, ha ha, but
if I had we’d go to church together
or not, anyway we’d get along and
if she was younger or older, who cares,
I’d look out for her either way and she
me, I guess, I think that’s something Jesus
does, you never see Him but He’s out there
somewhere looking in and for I know
looking out as well, one day when I’m dead
and if I get to Heaven I’ll ask Him
what comes after the life-to-come, what’s out
there for us when we’re finished with death, last
night I dreamt I asked Him and He said
Hell if I know and we laughed. Then I rose.
Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China
I got it to go–chicken and peanuts
from a restaurant with no name because I
just don’t know it, even asked it but I can’t
remember it. Chicken and peanuts and
chili’s. And rice. We’re going home to watch
something, anything, on television.
Sports, perhaps, but football’s–soccer’s–not
my cup of tea. I’ll be home in five minutes,
if home’s the place to sleep and sometimes eat
and visit me. I’m looking for news from
home–how the war is going, how people
are doing things back there. Home. My country.
The United States of America.
In Chinese it’s Meiguo, which sounds like
America enough to pass but means
The Beautiful Land. How they can know that
I don’t know how they know. I should ask
but they’re more accustomed to being told
first, and, often, asking is redundant,
even insubordinate. Even though
some locals speak English here–teachers and
students and a few cab drivers and shop
-keepers with their businesspersons’-pidgin
–no one talks my language, so what am I
doing teaching in The Middle Kingdom
when I could be home, be unemployed and
happy? I’d be closer to memories
as well. If they’re geographical. I
don’t know but now that I’m away from my
beginnings I might move closer to the
past if I retreat. No–it doesn’t work
like that. You go back to a point you were
and you’re still was but it’s the kind of was
that isn’t any is-er for the change.
Still, I’ve stood in front of the vacant lot
that used to be my house and yard and thought,
I remember this, I remember that
–how do I get home to what used to be?
I thought if I went farther I’d forget
but all that’s missing here’s an empty space.
The problem with the past is there’s no place
for it. It dies and would be remembered
but it’s nowhere it was. So it moves in
on you–my head is packed with old houses,
cars, girlfriends, buddies, etc.,
and there’s still room for more, what is and what
will come. And then you die with a full heart
because everything is missing except old
souls: things die and go to Heaven in your
brain. Too many peppers in the chicken
–they’ll burn going in, and coming out next
day. I don’t know why I do this to me
–something else to remember, The Peppers
of 4 October, 2003.
I had them for a while and they had me.
I’m stuck with what they were and I’m nothing
to them now, unless I gave them heartburn.
And even then they’re flushed into the past
and are another future and I am
lost. Sometimes I want everything back all
at once, arranged around me, just to know
that we’re still One. Why did I kill them off?
They made me–I didn’t want to hurt them.
Now the past has gone to a better place
but I know what it used to be to me.
It still is, and isn’t–that’s the riddle.
It’s beyond my grasp but I call it back.
I think too much, so I don’t think enough.
I’m onto something but I’ve lost the trail.
I don’t know who I am but there I go.
Gale Acuff has had hundreds of poems published in several countries and is the author of three books of poetry. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.