Three Poems by Gale Acuff

Word Problem

I never see God outside of church and
come to think of it I never see Him
inside church, neither, except of course
the Crucifix behind the altar and
another in our Sunday School classroom
and Jesus as God-in-the-flesh hangs on
the cross behind the altar but in our
Sunday School room somebody took Him down,
not that He was ever nailed up there for
real but what I mean is that in one place
He’s present and the other He’s missing
and I think the latter–not the ladder
like, say, Jacob climbed up or Father does when
he touches up around the attic wind
-ow but I mean the second–the latter‘s
called a symbol, something’s there that’s not
or something’s not there that is and what’s good

about being dead is that I won’t have
to worry anymore about what’s what,
the square root of 33 or how far
the earth is from the sun or the sun from
the earth–trust my teacher in regular
school to give at least two different answers
–and even on the AM radio
How many roads must a man walk down be
-fore they call him a man, be careful, I
think it’s a trick question but whatever
the answer isn’t 37, and
I’ll also know the secret of why God’s
in one place and not another when He’s
supposed to be everywhere at once and
though I never see Him at church I smell

Him out and I guess that He dwells in Grand
-mother’s house, too, especially since Grand
-father died, Mother and Father and I
visit every Sunday and sit out on
the porch and stare out into the yard and
street and to the sky and I’ve seen things that
I bet I’ll never see anywhere else
while Grandmother rocks, even asleep and
snoring she never comes to a rest and
we leave her there, she doesn’t wake even
to the sound of the engine starting or
maybe she’s faking. That’s why I love her.


Miss Hooker teaches me at Sunday School
all about God and Heaven, religion
that is, and Jesus and the Holy Ghost
and makes death sound so inviting, pretty
important, that sometimes I wish I was
dead myself, I almost said death myself,
but if I was, or were, death itself, or
death myself, I’d be surrounded by dead
bodies and souls, I guess, unless until
the souls went up to Heaven to be judged
and the bodies hung back to rot away
and become soil again and make new ones, new
bodies I mean, to be filled up with souls,
babies made from mothers and fathers but
mothers and fathers come from clay and then
injected by God with souls but I was
saying that if I were death I’d be all
alone and yet that can’t be true, I’d be
the most popular guy in the whole world,
just kind of feared and not regarded as
one of God’s necessary angles, all
people have to go sometimes, I summon
them to Him but sometimes I think that I’m
even more important than God is or
when I get a break, though hardly ever,
I’m God Himself and what I take for God
is my own shadow. What casts the light? If
I knew that there would be an end of me.
What happened to death, someone might ask. Oh,
haven’t you heard? He snuffed his own candle.
That would bring to life immortality
and things might get mighty crowded. After
class today I told Miss Hooker that I
didn’t want to die but yet I love death
more than even life itself. I’m just ten years old
and she said to me, Every person is
the end of the world, just as if I’d get
what the Hell she meant. And she’s right. I don’t.


Miss Hooker wants me to give my life to
Jesus, she’s my Sunday School teacher, but
I’d rather give my life to her, as her
husband, even though I’m only 10 but
I won’t live forever, I’ll get older,
Hell, I’m getting older even right now
and with every passing moment, she
is, too, but I don’t care, if I must wait
until it’s 100 to 85
in her favor, that’s what I’ll do, so if
I ever do get saved, that will be why,
to keep us both alive no matter how
long it takes for her to marry me and
speaking of miracles, that would be one
and I hope they come in pairs because I
want to have some children no matter how
old Miss Hooker gets, and if we can raise
them to adulthood that will be a third
miracle, kind of like a Trinity,
so after Sunday School class today I
told Miss Hooker about my way but she
told me not to rest my hopes on it but
go ahead and get saved instead and give
my life to Jesus, not to her–I cried
at that, and I’m a big boy, 10 and more
because the minutes become hours, then days,
things add up even when they don’t seem to,
maybe especially–I mean I wept,
that classy kind of crying, I was sad,
of course, but it felt more like a sadness meant
not just for me but everybody,
and I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt
when He got panicky up on the Cross,
or I guess He did, I sure as Hell would
have, or when in that garden He hit God
with If it’s your will, Father, cut me slack,
I forget the exact words and yet I was
there, somehow. So after Miss Hooker helped
me blow my nose and dry my face she said,
she mumbled, she whispered, God bless you, Gale,
but it’s time for you to run along home,
and I think I did. But I don’t remember.


Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, McNeese Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Orbis, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry, all from BrickHouse Press: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

Gale has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.

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