July 6, 2018

Three Poems by Gale Acuff: "Distant", "As Good as Dead' and "Vision"

Gale Acuff has been published Ascent, McNeese Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Weber, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Orbis, and other journals. He has 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 has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.


Miss Hooker drives away after Sunday
School as I watch and wave goodbye but it's
really Hello but she doesn't know that.
I'm ten years old and in love with her but
I'll have to wait another ten or so
to court her--she must be 25 or
30--and even then she'll match me year
for year so that I'll never catch up. Damn

is what I'd say but I don't curse, not much,
not enough to notice, although God does,
seeing as how He knows everything and
is always watching, something like Santa.
Still, I'm never a good boy for the whole
year but Santa delivers anyway,
forgives me or God asks him to or just
tells him. I can still smell her perfume where

she took me by the arm, Miss Hooker did,
as I walked her to her car, a two-door
Ford, one door for her and one for me--when
I dream about us at night I open
her door for her, then get in on my side
and we're off to our little house beside
the baseball field. I get out and open
her door for her again, then we go in
and watch cartoons and wrestling and I hold
her close to me. Then she makes us supper
and we watch more TV or play ping pong,
then have a snack. And then she tucks me in
and for a moment her face changes to
Mother's, then back to her own, and I fall

asleep, and wake, and she's beside me,
reading the Bible with a mumbling.
If you move your lips, you're reading too fast,
I whisper. That always makes her laugh. Good
night, she says, and we shake hands and even
kiss, and I mean mouth-to-mouth, and she turns
out the light and when I wake it's for real

this time, Sunday morning, say, when I dress
for my date with God and Miss Hooker and
take my seat in the back of the class, where
I'm far away and can see her better,
just like when I walk her to her car and
she drives off (but not away) and I stand
staring until she's out of sight, as if
I can see her anyway. Like Jesus.

As Good as Dead

I never held a dead thing before. This
one, my dog, takes both arms. I found him on
the far bank of the highway, killed last night,
I guess--and here I thought I was only
dreaming that I heard metal breaking bone
and a yelp and something landing with a
whump. By the time I found him he was cold
and stiff but his eyes still open and
he was looking off into the distance
at something--maybe at what he never
saw hit him. Maybe into another

dimension (I got that from comic books).
Maybe into the future--tomorrow,
or tomorrow's tomorrows' tomorrows.
Or into Heaven, where I want to go
because I don't want to die and Heaven
is the next best thing, Eternal Life but
no bodies to slow you down and nothing
to run, over and over, over you
even. Yes, that's the life. Caesar, my mutt,
he must be there now. He can't be in Hell

because he isn't human--only men
and probably even fewer women
and hardly any children, or not one,
I'll bet (though I shouldn't), go there. Bad men.
Men who cause Hell on earth to other folks.
Those other folks, they go to Heaven, I

hope, if they haven't been bad enough--they
never got the chance to repent their sins.
So I hope that God goes easy on 'em,
and Hell, too, if that's where they go. Or dog
-Heaven: Caesar was just an animal
but I never sold him short and taught him
how to be. If there's a Hell for dogs
and he's gone there, I'll take the blame--it's all
my fault. And what's sin to an animal?

I carry Caesar up our long driveway,
like walking the last mile. I am guilty
of something, or at least responsible,
and God is watching me. If He were here
in front of me I couldn't see Him for
the tears. It's like looking through a rainy
window--you know what's out there, you've seen it
in the light, you have faith it still exists.
Still, you're afraid to see what you hope for.

We walk behind the house and struggle down
to the terrace below the garden, where
all our dead pets are dug in. I put him
down and dig a hole--if he were alive
he'd help me--and put him in and cover
him up and something of me, too. When I
know what that is I'll be wise--or at least
grown up. I put the shovel down and wash

and wash my hands at the backyard spigot
and go in the back door and see Mother
and Father at the kitchen table. They
smoke, and sip their chicory and avoid
looking at me until I take my place.
I'm sorry about your animal, Son,
Father says. Yes, Mother says. It's a pity.
It happens, I say. It's alright. I'll get
over it. But I hope never--if I
do I'll be dead myself. Or as good as.


In Sunday School today we said the Lord's
Prayer, bowed our heads and closed our eyes and
folded our hands, at least I folded mine,
and after we said Amen and opened
our eyes, I was blind for a second and
maybe that was the point, everything
bright and new for a moment until
that faded and it was the same old world.
I guess it summed Eternity, those
moments. They didn't last forever but
now I can't forget them, and when I pray
I pray like I count on the darkness I make
to make my waking sudden, like being
born almost, not that I remember that
nor anything before it when I was
before I was became my early I
am. Miss Hooker's my Sunday School teacher
and she says that everybody must

die. She's pretty old herself, 25
and I'm only 10 so she's going to
get there probably long before I do,
to death I mean, unless I die somehow
accidentally, before my time, not
that I know when my time is, or will be.
She says I've got a choice between Heaven
and Hell, and my future, if I have one,
depends on how I believe, how much I
sin and don't. And everybody will,
she says, but we've got to try to control
it so that we don't land ourselves in Hell
and its Lake of Everlasting Fire and
when we do, sin I mean, pray to God to
forgive us. In Jesus' name. Anyway
that's what she says she does because no one
knows when God will ask them Home. She means when

death will come for them. She means when they die.
I don't know how to tell her that no one
remembers where they were before they were
born, how before-being-born is kind of like
death so how can they know what comes after?
But that never stops me from praying. You
can't be too careful but you can't stop death
so all that's left is the life beyond, if
there is one. And maybe there was before
I was born and it's the same place and life
here is something to do in between. Me,
I'd as soon as never been born but I
don't make the rules, whatever they are, God

knows. I guess I'll find out when I'm gone, when
it's too late, maybe. I'd like to come back
and tell everybody what's-what
but you have to be Jesus to do that
and if He and the Father are One then
He already knew what He was dying
to know. And now I know it, too. Funny.

Gale Acuff

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