Four Poems by Gale Acuff

soft cartel may 2018

Proposal

Jesus is my friend but Miss Hooker is
my girl, she’s my Sunday School teacher so
since she learns me all about Jesus and
the Father and the Holy Ghost that’s why
I worship her even though I’m only
10 and she’s 25 and there’s fifteen
years between us but Mother said when I
asked her at the supper table last night
if a younger man can date an older
woman she replied Sure, why not, who cares
about age so there you go, I’d marry
Mother if I couldn’t have Miss Hooker
so after Sunday School this morning I
left but came back to ask her, Miss Hooker
I mean, if when I’m of legal age and
will she please find out when that is will she
marry me and she smiled and said Let’s wait
until the time comes and you can ask me
then and then smiled again and that’s
good for a Probably not, I’d take it
over a Yes any day, well almost,
but when I’m 16 or 18 or what
-ever the littlest age is you can bet
I’ll be back here or wherever she is,
Miss Hooker I mean, to propose to her,
and if she says No I’ll ask her again
until she says Yes and if she says Yes,
I mean of instead of saying No, I’ll go
buy a ring–for a hole in the middle
so most of it looks missing it can sure
cost plenty. So I’m starting to save up.

Wretched

I love Jesus one Hell of a lot so
I go to Sunday School to worship Him
and God and the Holy Ghost and I guess
whoever else I’m leaving out, ha ha,
or is that whomever but anyway
I figure that as long as I show up
religiously in my clip-on and pay
attention to what our teacher says, she’s
Miss Hooker, then when I die I won’t go
to Hell and burn forever, burn and burn
and burn some more, I mean eternally,
which is even longer than forever,
which is all pretty damn good thinking for
ten years old, which is what I am, I mean
if you go by years and if not by years
then I’m someone else, maybe even more
than Gale, like Miss Hooker’s more than her age,
25 I think, though maybe ages
are just small parts of what make people just

folks, or folks anyway, and if all God
wants is about fifty minutes from me
once a week I’m getting off easy since
in regular school I spend a lot more
time learning or hoping to learn about
the world so the least I can do is take
some time every Sunday to learn about
how not to go to Hell when I’m dead and
how not to sin so much that I go there
and how to sing the sweet old songs though not
all of the songs seem so sweet, like the one
in which I not only call myself wretch
but shout it out at the top of my lungs,
all of us do, Miss Hooker the loudest,
we wail out about our depravity,
that’s a pretty good word to be so bad,
not bad like Hell or damn or SOB
but still bad enough in its own way yet
bad enough or bad where it really counts
and yet “Rock of Ages” is a happy
hymn, Miss Hooker says so so it must be

so because since the rock, just whatever
it was, or still is, was cleft, that means it
was busted open so that I can hide
inside and then I guess it closes up
(though I wonder if I close it myself)
again and maybe it’s God Who’s the rock
or Jesus or Peter or maybe all
three but maybe I could figure it all
out if I could see the words again, it’s
funny how we sing it and sing it and
sing it at Sunday School but I just can’t
remember more than a few of the words
so I sort of just move my lips and pray
that I don’t go to Hell if I should die
while I’m faking it and after Sunday
School was over last week I went up to
Miss Hooker at her little metal desk,
my best guess is aluminum, not steel,
which means that if it had wings it would fly

better than if it was pure steel, stainless
I guess that means, there’s irony for you,
that’s a word I copped at regular school
but it doesn’t seem to signify much
here–I went up to Miss Hooker and said
I’m sorry, ma’am, but I need some more help or
maybe even some mercy because I
can’t remember the fucking words and she
looked at me as if she’d really seen me
for the very first time and also last
because I think she almost fainted, she
kept blinking and blinking and batting
her eyelashes like the gals on TV
but she wasn’t even wearing false ones.
So I guess that’s how I know she loves me
but not in the way that God loves us all,
I mean if He really does or at least
did–there was the Crucifixion so long

ago but not much has gone on since then
and sometimes I feel that it’s all my fault.
That’s what I wanted to tell Miss Hooker
but couldn’t bring myself to so maybe
I’ll tell her on our honeymoon. But watch
her tell me back to take it to the Lord
in prayer. Is that where babies come from?

In the Flesh

I don’t mind going to Hell as long as
it’s for a good cause–somebody has to
and it might as well be me, yours truly, or
yours untruly as the case may be, God
will sort it out later, I guess, when I’m
dead and standing before Him, I’m standing
dead you might say, ha ha, and judges me
as saint or sinner though I really think
I’m halfway or at least somewhere in be
-tween but I don’t think that there’s a place for
me unless it’s some kind of limbo, not
the dance but the Catholic place but I
don’t know much about that, I’m Methodist
and I guess that we don’t know anything
pretty cool, we’re pretty square, not as square
as Baptists but I’m only ten years old,
what the Hell do I know about any
-thing except not enough? And then I’ll go
to Hell, I mean that’s where God will send me
if He’s any judge of sinners, over
time He might’ve lost some of His sharpness
but so would you, I’ll bet, if you were there
in the beginning, I mean the very

beginning, and the zillions of years since
then. I figure that by sinning what I’m
doing is helping God out since
if nobody sinned at all then Heaven
would get mighty crowded and Satan down
below, what in Heaven’s name, ha ha, would
he do but torture himself? That would be
Hell on him, of course, and maybe I’ve got
something there, but anyway I’d be good
as someone damned to the eternal fire
forever, whenever God needs a good
example of someone sinful suffering
in Hell He could always point to me
–somebody has to burn forever and
I guess I’m volunteering, it’s easy
to believe in God and be forgiven
and go to Sunday School and pray and pray
and sing the hymns and speak the Lord’s Prayer
and study the Bible but give me Hell,
I guess I’ll have my work cut out for me.
On the other hand, maybe sinning’s lots
easier after all than trying to
be as good as you can be and go to
Heaven and meet Jesus in the flesh, ha
ha, that’s kind of funny and I’ll bet He
could appreciate that and if I get
to meet Him that’s exactly what I’ll say
and hope that it plays well and breaks the ice
and if there’s beer in Heaven I’ll buy us
a couple and maybe He likes baseball
by this time, He sort of vanished on us
two thousand years ago and has never

returned, maybe He can’t bear it down here
or the Crucifixion broke His spirit,
so to speak. So out of respect for Them
–God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost–out
of respect for Them I’ll take my stand, help
make the system work, like my teacher
at Sunday School, Miss Hooker, who says that
the Republicans are no damn good, not
that the Democrats are any better
but where we live there aren’t that many folks
who vote the GOP so she says that
she always does to help the two-party
system survive and I got to thinking
what’s good for the goose is sauce for the duck
too, or whatever the Hell that old line
is. Maybe not believing’s a third one
and having a different religion is
another. This is America–I
can shop around but sooner or later
I guess I’ve got to cough up the silver.
I don’t want to die but it’s a living.

Three Times Fast

Luke 6.38

If I had to choose between Jesus and
God I’d probably go for the Holy
Ghost because whoever else He is He
seems to hang back and mind His own beeswax
unless He’s called on for inspiration,
I don’t know beans about the Bible but
I do go to Sunday School though not church,
I always fall asleep in there and I
don’t want to wake up dead with all those folks
and neighbors staring at me–I don’t know
much about the Bible but I recall
Miss Hooker, our teacher, talking about
the Pentecost, something about some guys
gathered together and those tongues of fire
and a lot of glossolalia, now
there’s a word for you, say it three times fast
if you only can, I don’t think real tongues
of flame but who the Hell knows, it’s the Good

Book and just about anything goes but
anyway, speaking of the Holy Ghost
it was He Who was involved in a big
big way, the Holy Spirit’s what He’s called
in the really classy churches, Catholic
for sure, where Mother Mary’s pretty big
too and they’ve got statues but anyway
don’t get me wrong, God and Jesus are all

right with me but for true mystery you
can’t beat the Holy Ghost, Spirit that is
–pick one–and Jesus is the Son of God
and God’s the Father, not just of Jesus,
and God and Jesus are one and the same
but different and for all I know you can
throw in the Holy Ghost for good measure,
shaken, not stirred, or am I thinking of
James Bond’s favorite drink but drinking’s a sin
in our church, which maybe explains why my
father never goes, he likes his cold Schlitz
after supper everyday and ditto
Sundays, especially Sundays, maybe
because it’s the day before Monday, that
means back to work, maybe that means shaken
and pressed together for good measure or
whatever the Hell I’m trying to say,

I’m only ten years old and how old’s God

if not infinite, what number’s that, and
maybe Jesus is a few years younger
and the Holy Ghost, maybe He’s so old
you never hear as much about Him and
no one’s ever seen Him except in what
He’s wrought, which is to make people crazy
with excitement, not like in James Bond flicks
but with something deeper down that comes from
somewhere higher, hope I know for sure when
I’m dead and if I don’t learn what then then
I’ll be damned if I’ll ever be the same.

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, McNeese Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Orbis, and many other journals. He hasauthored 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 tertiary-level English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

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