Five Poems by Gale Acuff

Calling

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

  1. 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

  1. 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.


Needy

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.


Luke, Warm

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

together, togetherness-together

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.


Parties

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 know and we laughed. Then I rose.


Takeaway 

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.

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