Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Coe Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, 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).
I don’t want to die. But my teacher says
I have to, one day anyway, I mean
my Sunday School teacher. It’s natural
that she should know more about dying than
my teacher in regular school or my
parents because she’s closer to God, she
works for the church, you can’t get much closer
to God than that unless you’re the preacher
or Jesus or an angel. Miss Hooker
is her name and she is, an angel or
pretty damn near, even though she works at
the Curl & Dye the rest of the week. She
went to college, too, vocational school
it’s called. She drives a South Korean
car, five speeds it has. You can’t be stupid
and use a manual. And when I die
God will judge me, she says, for Heaven or
Hell and that will be that, I’ll go either
to dwell with Him forever or down to
Hell to live with Satan, if you call that
living. Anyway, it lasts forever
but so does life in Heaven, so long that
it really isn’t life, she says, but much
better. She says that to dwell up there I
can’t sin, even though I will, Adam and
Eve brought sin on us all, we weren’t even
born yet, that’s how serious sin is, so
I’ve got to fight it by not doing it
and praying for forgiveness if I do
and praying even if I don’t, asking
Jesus to forgive me, or, she says, He
died for nothing and it’s all my fault and
I wasn’t even alive but I’ll be
to blame. Pretty scary but it’s the truth,
Miss Hooker says. Read your Bible, children.
I try but I fall asleep–no pictures.
But I’ve seen The Ten Commandments twice and
The Greatest Story Ever Told and King
of Kings. And Ben Hur. And Spartacus. But
it’s the word of God I need and straight from
the horse’s mouth. That’s a figure of speech.
Wouldn’t it be straighter if God spoke it
directly to a body? I listen
at night after I say the Lord’s Prayer
and pray for my parents and teachers and
my other enemies, and my dog and
the pistol that I want for Christmas but
I’m too young even for a BB gun.
I guess that I can learn to live with death,
as if I have a choice. Miss Hooker says
I don’t, and I don’t know when it will come
so I’d better be prepared, she says, to
stand before the throne of God and answer
a few questions. I wonder what He’ll ask.
I hope that there aren’t any trick questions.
I hope that there’s a bonus question worth
enough points so that I can save my soul
in case I miss a few of the others.
I wonder if He’ll ask me for my name.
If He does then I’ll ask Him, Don’t you know?
I wonder how He’ll answer. Be honest,
I’ll tell Him. Don’t be afraid to admit
that You don’t know. But if He answers Gale
I might ask Him if He knows my middle
name. After all, nobody uses it,
not even me. I’m not here to judge you,
I’ll say. But He might say, like my parents,,
that I’ve got an attitude and with them
that’s enough to send me to my room. I
sneak out the window sometimes. In Heaven
I’ll just use Jacob’s ladder to slide down
to earth again. I guess I’ll be a ghost.
I’ll go to Miss Hooker but try not to
scare her–I’ll just watch, like she watches me
in class to make sure I haven’t smuggled
in a comic inside my workbook. She
still has my copy of Superboy. She
still hasn’t returned it. It must be good.