Poetry: Gale Acuff

Gale Acuff

I’ll never tell my sister: I saw you
through the keyhole of your bedroom door when
I was 10 and you were 16 and you
sat on your bed, wearing only your bra,
the first I’d ever seen not hanging from
a clothesline, or on a headless, armless
woman in a department store. And thought
If I have any sense I won’t reveal
this moment to anyone--let it be
our secret and not even a secret
that we share because I know and you don’t.

To my credit I never looked again,
but maybe that’s what guilt is, just one deed
and something to think about, second-sight
aplenty.  That was forty years ago.
In last night’s dream I saw me seeing you
again--I mean I saw me seeing you
for the first time since I saw my secret.
Now I’m squealing on me for what I saw.
I sneaked up behind me peeping into
your room and cleared my throat and the boy turned
and saw the look on my face. Shame on you,
I hissed. I know, he whispered. But just see.


Miss Hooker, I love you, I say in my
sleep and meanwhile I'm holding her close but
it's only the pillow, soft and mushy
like she is, or like I like to think she
is, mushy that is, like a marshmallow
and she won't hold me back nor engulf me,
that's a word I learned in regular school,
not Sunday School where she's my teacher and
I love her as much as do God but
if I tell her so she'll holler at me
Thou blasphemer, and I wouldn't blame her,
I like it when she hollers at me, say

when I screw up the Lord's Prayer like I
did this morning when she called on me to
recite it--I flubbed how it goes halfway
to the end and my classmates giggled but
she put the kibosh on that, so maybe
she loves me anyway, I mean real love
between husbands and wives, forget I'm 10
to her 25, love will find a way,
that's what God's for and not so much Nature
but anyway when I grow up I'll come
back to Sunday School and say hello and
maybe propose and if she turns me down
I'll ask and ask until she caves in, knock
and it shall be opened. Just by kissing.

Nailing It

In the end I finally get to see
God, the end of the world I mean, or is
that that the end of everything, I forget,
but Miss Hooker, my Sunday School teacher,
should know, knowing all about the Bible,
that's her job, or one of them, the other
is to save my soul from Hell and she's done
a pretty fair job so far but at last
it will be up to me to keep me from

fire although Jesus already died
for my sins--Miss Hooker says that if I'm
bad enough I'll go there anyway. So
what does God look like, I asked her after
class this morning. She answered, Remember

that we're made in His image, and I asked
Has He got red hair, green eyes, and freckles
like you do, and then she smiled. Verily.


Every night before I fall asleep
I pray to God and Jesus, too, that They
will let me marry Miss Hooker when I
grow up, she's 25 to my only
10 but just wait a few years and watch me
catch up, kind of, still be fifteen years back
but at least mature enough for marriage
by numbers anyway, and though she'll be
getting to old to be young enough we'll
have a few good years together and make
some babies and have some fun, whatever
sort of fun married people have, my folks
don't have a lot to say to each other
but then there's the nighttime when we're all in
our beds and so are Mother and Father
and Miss Hooker, though she sleeps somewhere else,
who knows what goes on when their doors are shut
and sometimes locked, at least on Friday nights
and sometimes Saturdays, too, and it's dark
all night long and they sleep in the same bed,
my parents I mean? Something tells me that
I came out of that dark place one morning
and--behold--here I am ten years later
and wondering if I'll ever go back
to what my parents were before they made
me. That's why I'm religious. That's why there's
Sunday School. I don't know any better.

Attention to Detail

I hope Miss Hooker goes to Heaven like
she keeps saying she wants to--she's big on
God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost and
she's my Sunday School teacher, nobody
I know or even don't comes nearer to
God so I hope she finally gets to
meet Him, I'll bet He's heard lots about her
but of course He made her after all and
with a lot of attention to detail,
red hair and green eyes and freckles, I mean
Miss Hooker. I don't know what God looks like
but He'll have to go some to out-fine her.
Me, I'll be going to Hell, I guess, she
tells me so herself every Sunday,
how if I keep sinning and don't get saved
even though I'll still sin but not as much
and not so heinously, I'll go to Hell
and be tortured and Don't say I didn't
warn you. She did. And the rest of the class
--she warned the whole lot of us but wouldn't
it be something if when I land in Hell

I'll find her there? I wonder if she'll say
I told you so. Boy, will my face be red,
as red as her hair going up in flames
but maybe she won't be able to see,
my red face, I mean, for all the fire and
blood and brimstone, whatever that is. Then
it'll probably hit me that she's just
as embarrassed as I am. But I won't
rub it in. I'll forgive her. That's righteous.

Terminal Ellipsis

Say I'm dead. So I'm in Heaven or Hell
like they tell me at Sunday School and if
Heaven then life is good even though I
had to lose mine to gain it, life I mean,
and Hell is bad, fire and brimstone, also
known as sulfur, and torture and torment
and so on, I'm in one of two places
but in a spot whichever one it is,
ha ha, because I think in either one,
the Good as well as the Bad, I'd wish that
I was still kicking even though I'd know
that one day I'd die, I'd have appetites
and desires that really signify, such

as tacos and pizza and caramel
popcorn and comic books and Three Stooges
and Ford Mustangs and Triumphs and pretty
girls at regular school and church, too, and
a new bicycle for X-mas and no
school on ice-storm days and every week my
allowance on time and without chintzing
and Playboy magazine when I can reach
it at the top of the magazine rack in the drug
store and Esquire and Saga and Argosy,
too, and Mad and Cracked and Sick and ice cream
in at least thirty-one flavors and
no rules against mixing 'em and Mother

and Father go to bed early Fridays
and Saturdays and leave the Magnavox
to me and my dog, I mean when they fetch
me one, and the I actually
scored on the English test last week, it kept
me from failing fourth grade again but here

I am with God and Jesus and the Ghost
and saints and about a jillion angels
of all sorts of ranks, and harps and halos,
if I didn't know better I'd say that
I'm dwelling in Hell and not Heaven. Hey . . .


Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Reed, Poet Lore, Chiron Review, Cardiff Review, Poem, Adirondack Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Roanoke Review, and many other journals in eleven countries. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

Gale has taught university English courses in the US, China, and Palestine.

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