4 poems by Gale Acuff

Gut Instinct

 

Miss Hooker died in my dream last night. She’s

my Sunday School teacher and pretty old,

25, I’d guess, to my 10. She was

run over by a Mack crossing the street,

I mean that she was crossing the street, not

the Mack–she wasn’t crossing it, either

–on her way as usual to teach us

all the dope about God and Jesus and

the Holy Ghost, Who isn’t as spooky

as He sounds, says she. Whew. That’s a relief.

But now she’s dead, though not for real and so

not for keeps, but only in my dream and

I sure can have ’em, nightmares sometimes and

sometimes just goofy ones, like my dog wears

glasses and drives me to school each morning.

That means something but I don’t know what. God

 

sends dreams sometimes. He sent some to Adam

and Pharaoh and maybe Jesus Himself.

I’ll have to ask Miss Hooker about that

because she sure knows her Bible because

she’s the library assistant downtown.

So in my dream she didn’t see or hear

that Mack, her glasses on and her nose in

the Scriptures, wouldn’t you know. It hit her

just as she was nearly out of the way

and spun her around where I was standing

by the side of the road waiting for her

as usual, in my dream and in real

life, but I caught her before she hit ground

and I could tell she was hurt, I’m going

to be a doctor one day so I’ve got

an instinct, I think it’s called, for that kind

of thing. I’m just glad she wasn’t smashed to

 

pieces, pieces in people being bones

and guts and blood. And I didn’t throw up.

But I caught her, like I say, and she swooned,

which is what gals do in the movies, not

just faint or pass out like Mother does from

two glasses of Mogen David, bless her.

And as I lowered her to the shoulder,

it’s a soft shoulder, like the sign says, she

was looking at me but not seeing and

hearing my voice but not listening and

still in this world but likewise out of it.

Then she breathed her last so I knew she was

probably dead but just to be safe I

closed her eyes with my thumbs, like they do on

TV shows I’m not allowed to watch but

do when I can’t sleep and the set’s too loud

so I creep down our thirteen stairs and

watch through the bannister. One time I fell

 

asleep there and rolled down the steps and woke

up thinking I was dead but Mother was

there and not very happy. I wonder

if I was killed and if I think I’m still

alive I’m really in Hell, or when death

gets you you live again but somewhere else

that’s pretty much the same. Or I dreamt it

and woke up. Or I’m dreaming still. Who knows?

After I shut Miss Hooker’s eyes I woke

up in the dark, alone in my own bed.

I wonder if I should tell Miss Hooker

what happened to her last night, and that I

woke up crying but still feeling pretty

 

good, it was a good cry, I mean, and God

saw that it was good, even in the dark.

Or maybe she really is dead and my

dream was the kind that’s also true, call it

prophecy, or is that premonition.

I almost hate to go to Sunday School

and find out that she’s missing. I’ll confess

that she’s dead but that I didn’t kill her.

Maybe they’ll start an investigation

and I’ll go to jail forever or they’ll

execute me. If I have a choice then

I’ll go with crucifixion. She’d like that.

 

 

–Gale Acuff

___________________________

 

 

 

Playboy

 

I wonder if they’re lonely, the naked

girls in Father’s magazines that he hides

in his top dresser drawer with his change

and squashed balloons and the pocket watches

that don’t work and cufflinks, just five when there

should be six, and some black and white photos

of him and Mother before they had me,

however that happened. I’m only 9

and probably too young to know but I’m not

stupid, they got me at the hospital

so maybe the doctor helped, and a nurse.

But they’re awful pretty, especially

Miss May, who gets the biggest picture and

I can see why this one takes three pages.

I don’t read so good, so-so for third grade,

but on the back page-full of her legs and

ankles there are three numbers. I say them,

36, 34, 36 but

I don’t see a hut or hike to follow but

we might have something in common though she’s

way too old for me, 22–I like

football, too, but if I played touch with her

I’d have to be careful to concentrate

on her waist or she might slap me and I

wouldn’t blame her. I’m a gentleman or

will grow to be one unless I die first.

And she says here that she likes romantic

walks in the moonlight, and so do I but

my folks don’t allow me outside after

dark and I don’t blame them, what with vampires

and werewolves and Bigfoot and burglars at

large but I can go out if I hang on

the porch and mind my own business, they say.

I like the ocean, too, but I’ve never

seen it, face to face, I mean, up close and

personal. It has a lot of salt and

comes in and goes out and comes in and goes

out and it’s the moon does that and I guess

that’s romantic, too, I’m not sure why. Is

that what they mean by rhythm method? But

I like to swing and seesaw but Miss May

is a little old for such, I guess, and

not dressed for it–in fact, she’s not dressed for

anything but she can sure smile, and I

wonder how Father would react if he

could see Mother in that position. I

don’t want to think about it but somehow

I can’t stop. Oh, well. Her favorite

food is spaghetti and she likes meatballs,

the bigger the better, she says, and that’s

what’s wrong with Mother’s, they’re too puny, more

like marbles than golf balls. Her idea man

–I guess my idea man is Santa Claus

–makes her laugh, Miss May’s I mean–Mother’s is

probably Uncle Dick but they’re just friends

and I don’t think that they’ll have a baby

but that would be a good one on Father,

I’m not sure why. I know a few jokes if

 

that’s all it takes to grab her attention.

I’d tell her, I know a dirty joke and

if she asked, What? I’d say, The white horse fell

in a mud puddle. That’s pretty funny.

All I know is when I’m at the doctor’s

for a checkup I always have to strip

my clothes and they leave me in that little

room which isn’t much bigger than Father’s

dresser and I’m all naked except for that

paper gown they give me that ties behind

and there’s nothing to do but examine

the calendar and cotton balls and ear

swabs and metal stool, and spin around like

at the drugstore, which is where they’ll take me

for a double strawberry ice cream cone

if I don’t cry, much, but I only cry

because they left me alone and I’ve got

what you call an imagination, so

next time I might take off my paper gown

and lie on the table like Miss May does

on those three pages and see what they’re made

of when they stroll back in. It’s nice they knock

but that won’t stop me. Miss May must have known

that they were taking her photograph, she’s

smiling in every shot so I wonder

if she’s sadder when she’s dressed or even

happier. I’d ask Father but if he

knew I was in his bedroom, it’s Mother’s

too, he’d skin me alive. Now that’s naked.

 

 

–Gale Acuff

__________________________________

 

 

 

Holiness

 

In Sunday School today Miss Hooker said

that every man must die. I think that means

every woman, too, and probably

every girl and boy, once they get old

enough or even not. Anyone can

die at any time, at any age, in

any way, I guess. Miss Hooker says that

then the soul goes to Heaven to be judged

and if God finds it wanting, that means not

up to snuff, not up to His high standards,

then it goes to Hell and burns forever.

I guess it’s like the burning bush backwards

and maybe a lot bigger, the better

to roast the souls of all the bad people.

I wonder what the population is

 

in Hell and how it compares to Heaven’s.

Something tells me it’s like the Civil War

–the Rebs put up a fight but couldn’t whip

Heaven in the end, even though the South

had warmer weather and some spirit but

I guess in Hell hate’s burning to a crisp.

I’d better be careful, Miss Hooker says,

and try not to sin, and if I do, which

I’m going to, being in a fallen

state, she says, I must pray in Jesus’ name

to be forgiven. Then I’ll be alright.

Whew. But if I die in sin, she warns, which

means I croak when I’m doing something wrong,

I’m doomed, unless I’ve done enough good to

 

balance out the bad. God keeps a record,

Miss Hooker says. My name is in that book,

The Book of Life, if I’ve been good, more

good than bad, I guess. But if I’m standing

before Him and He doesn’t find my name,

then woe to me. If that happens maybe

I’ll ask God to look again, maybe ask

if He wears glasses and could He please find

them and put them on. That might be good. He’s

pretty old, I guess, around a long time,

at least since He made everything–I think

that’s called Creation. Maybe He even

created Himself. That’s a neat trick. Or

has always been around and was never

 

born. If He was born then I wonder what

He looked like at my age. I’m almost 10.

I wonder who His parents were, or if

He even had any. I hope so. Me,

I’d hate to be an orphan but I guess

it has its advantages, but you won’t

get an allowance every week and

then go bust. I wonder what will happen

a zillion years from now. I guess that folks

will still need to die, still stand before God

to be judged. Will He still be up to it

after all those years? I’d be embarrassed

to stand there and watch Him search for my name

 

and The Book of Life be upside down. I

might be able to sneak into Heaven

anyway. If an angel catches me

I’ll buy some time by telling him that I

want to file a complaint. It’s worth a try.

But maybe by that time Jesus will have

taken over. Anyway, I’ll die long

before then, with God old but still too sharp

to fool, not that I really want to but

I’m afraid and that’s good, it might save me

from Hell. At the end of Sunday School class

 

today, I led us in the Lord’s Prayer.

I stood up, shut my eyes, and bowed my head

and said it like I meant it, even though

I knew that my classmates, or some of them,

mostly boys, would make fun of me later.

What do I care? I guess what that is is

faith. I’d rather take a ribbing than burn

eternally, which is a fancy word

for forever. Still, I wonder if God

died and I was stuck in Hell–and why not,

you get no second chance when you’re dead, as

far as I know–would I get out on parole

 

or would Satan be so excited that

I could escape and he’d never notice

and Jesus so darned blue He wouldn’t care?

But I can’t count on that. No, it’s better

to be good. When I said “Amen,” my voice

was the voice of Miss Hooker and the class.

I didn’t even hear my own. If I

lost it I got it back when I told her

“Goodbye, I’ll see you next week.” She took off

her glasses and said, “Goodbye, Gale–bless you.”

If I die before next Sunday I’ll be

sure to remember that while I’m burning.

 

 

–Gale Acuff

________________________________

 

 

 

Amen and Amen

 

In Sunday School I said the Lord’s Prayer

near the end of class like Miss Hooker asked

me to even though she didn’t so much

ask as order but anyway I did

it, her wish is my command, and then we

all said Amen, practically shouted

it, and that was that for one more week, no

more God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost

’til we return, I sort of forget Them

Monday through Friday–regular school

–and Saturdays, too, because I just play

since I’ll have to deal with Them tomorrow

again and then get them out of the way

for another week, and so on and so

on ’til I die, I guess, or at least ’til

the end of the year, when I’ll have someone

else to teach me, Miss Hooker left behind

to younger students. And then I’ll die. But

maybe not right away, maybe when I’m

older, a lot older, and Miss Hooker

dead long before me. Maybe I’ll see her

if I ever really get to Heaven

and maybe haven’t sinned too much by then,

too much sin means you go to Hell and burn

and burn forever. And burn some more.

Meanwhile Miss Hooker will be up yonder

with the saints and angels and Jesus and

the whole gang. I’ll never see her again

if I’m being tortured down in Hell so

starting tonight I’ll try to say my

prayers, unless I forget, so that God

will hang around every day of the week.

Sometimes I think I love things more when they’re

gone forever. I ought to tell my folks

I love them, and I should pray for them, too,

but I don’t. I’ll love them more when they’ve left

but they’re still here. I’m looking for a way

to love them now like they’re dead already.

That goes for my dog, too. It’s when things leave

that they’re closest, and when they’re around who

needs them as much as when they’re not at hand?

I ought to pray about that. I wonder

if God will know what I’m talking about

when even I don’t know what I’m saying.

If He doesn’t then He isn’t God. If

I don’t then I’m only human, and if

I do then I guess that I’m saved. Amen.

 

–Gale Acuff

 

 

About the Author: Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has also 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). He also teaches university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

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