One day I'll go see God, Miss Hooker says.
She should know--she's my Sunday School teacher.
She means when I'm dead, a long time from now
I hope. I'm only 10, she's 25,
so she'll get there sooner, by fifteen years
unless something bad happens to either
of us and we don't die of natural
old age, some accident that kills her or
me, or maybe even both of us. Sure,
God is good and His mercy endureth
forever and all that but I don't want
to die at all, not even if it means
I'd live forever, my soul that is--I
like my body, too, but Miss Hooker says
that there's no room for it in Heaven and
besides I'll get an all-new one but it
won't be like my body here, it will be
no thicker than a soul, I guess. I'll be
like a ghost, kind of invisible and
without blond hair and green eyes and freckles.
Well, actually they're hazel, my eyes
I mean. I don't mind living forever
as long as it's on earth, the only place
I've ever known, for as long as I can
remember. Who knows where I was before
--maybe Heaven again. If so, I've lost
my memory, or maybe I wasn't
anything before I was born. I asked
Father and Mother again at supper
last night and Mother said, That's a good one,
and Father said, Not that one now--eat your
beans, which means that he doesn't know, either.
I don't really know how babies get here
but somehow my folks are responsible
for me but they're not talking. Miss Hooker
probably knows but I doubt she'll tell me
anything that isn't in the Bible
and I'll bet that's not. In Sunday School this
morning we sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers,"
a number about soldiers without guns
and who won't kill so they don't stand much chance
in battle, poor guys, unless God helps them
and Jesus and the Holy Ghost pitch in.
Then we said the Lord's Prayer and went home.
I could've been killed crossing the highway
to our house. Miss Hooker could've gotten
smashed to smithereens by a Red Ball van
as she was driving her Volare home.
Down here I hope that didn't happen but
if it did then up there, in Heaven, she's
happy, I hope. And to complicate things
unless I cut down on my sinning then
I'll go to Hell, she says, and be living
forever but eternally condemned
and tortured endlessly by Satan, which
sounds mighty rough but not much different
from school, just more fiery flames maybe.
So Heaven's probably the place to be
at least until after I graduate
and won't get picked on or flunk quizzes or
throw up my lunch during recess or girls
won't laugh when I tell them they're beautiful
or I lose my milk-and-cookie money
or fall asleep during history class
and get licked in exchange for one short dream
or get caught thumbing through Deadman in class.
I'd like to live forever but not long.
Grandpa's 92. Sometimes he funks out
--I can't remember shit, he moans. I wish
I was dead. So I tell him, Believe me,
it's not what folks make it out to be, like
I'm dead myself and here to tell him. Then
he remembers who I am, and tells me.
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Arkansas Review, Carolina Quarterly, Poem, South Dakota Review, Santa Barbara Review, Sequential Art Narrative in Education, 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).
Gale has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.