Gale Acuff

Jackknife

In our Sunday School classroom Jesus hangs
on the wall behind Miss Hooker’s desk, she’s
our teacher and all the students like her
but I love her so much that I’m in love
with her, I guess that’s when love’s serious,
except for how God loves me, and Jesus, and
maybe the Holy Ghost, but I mean how
people love other people like I love
her, Miss Hooker that is, and it helps that
she’s got red hair and green eyes and freckles
and talks about David and Goliath
like she knows them personally, David
anyhow, who was a lot smaller than
Goliath but still brought him down with that
sling because, Miss Hooker says, he had God
on his side–I’m small for ten years old so
when I walk home from Sunday School sometimes
I pretend that the tallest tree I see
is the giant, so I pick up a rock
and heave it as high and hard as I can
and try to knock it off its feet, its roots
anyway, and of course it’s just pretend
but that doesn’t stop me from standing still

and pretending even more that it cries
in pain, more like astonishment, maybe
it’s the stone who cries out, it’s hard to tell
even just pretending, and begins to
sway and then sway some more and even more
until it comes crashing down–crash– I can
feel the wind and see the dust that it stirs
up and for a moment I can’t hear since
it’s slammed the ground with such a shock and shook
it like the smash was from the ground itself
and almost knocked me off my feet as well.
Then I move on and following me are
all the grateful people–I just saved them
from Goliath. Oh, and I forgot that
I cut off his head with my jackknife and
hold it as high as I can so that they
can see and maybe God, too, not that He
can’t anyway but it’s a nice gesture.
When the house is in view I turn around

and everybody’s gone but I don’t mind,
they’ve got to get on with their lives, they can’t
follow me forever, except in their
hearts, which I guess is the main idea and
not that a kid can kill a big cretin
even if he was a longshot, the kid
that is. When I walk into the kitchen
Mother’s frying eggs and potatoes and
Father’s at the table reading the sports
and sipping Sanka and smoking a True.
They sleep late on Sundays. They don’t know what
they’re missing and sometimes I tell them so,
Father laughs as he says Halleleujah
without looking up. How’s my man of God
today, Mother asks. I think they’re making
fun of me. God will not be mocked,
I say. Father lowers the baseball scores
and finally looks at me. Mother turns
away from the stove–I don’t see her but
I feel the air move. Can I kill two birds
with one stone? The stone will have to talk fast.
I’m sorry, I say–Honor thy father
and thy mother. Father raises the news
between us again. Mother’s walking to
the refrigerator. Jesus. Too close.

 

Who Art in Heaven

I didn’t go to Sunday School today
because I’m sick, I think I’ve got the flu,
Mother says, although she’s not a doctor,
and Father’s dead so I won’t be getting
a second opinion, unless Mother
takes me to the doctor and I hope not
because there’s nothing but sick people there
and no good magazines or comic books
so I’m stuck and it being Sunday then
the office probably isn’t open
so I’d have to go to the hospital,
maybe the Emergency Room, which is
full of blood and broken bones and stitches
and I can throw up just as well at home.
And I have old comic books anyway,
I don’t mind reading them again although
I’m pretty dizzy even for pictures
of Batman and Robin swinging down from
buildings to ambush Joker or Penguin
or Riddler or Two-Face or Catwoman.
So I’m still in my pajamas, in bed.
Mother’s doing something in the kitchen
but I don’t smell food, which is just as well,
only coffee, which smells better than it
tastes, and she’s chain-smoking again. After

Father died she switched to his brand, Lucky
Strike. If I could stand without falling I
could look out my attic window and see
the church, at least the spire, through the pine trees,
and with the window open and the wind
blowing my way I might hear Miss Hooker
pounding the piano, “Amazing Grace”
or “Rock of Ages,” “Faith of Our Fathers”
or “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” And she’ll tell
a Bible story or two, Moses in
the bulrushes maybe, or David and
Goliath, or something about Jesus
bringing Lazarus back from the dead or
that bit about casting the first stone, not
to I mean, or about paying Caesar
what you owe him and God what you owe God.
Then class is almost over so she chooses
someone to lead the group in the Lord’s Prayer
and last week that was me and I got through
And lead us not into temptation when
I choked because I forgot the rest but
Miss Hooker saved me, kind of like Jesus,
and helped me through to the end and the end
is Amen of course, which she and I and
my classmates all said together and I’m
listening for that now because last week
we shouted it as loudly as we sing
a hymn, and that includes the piano.
And then Miss Hooker says, Bless you, children,
it’s time to go and I’ll see you next week
–don’t forget to say your prayers. We say
Yes ma’am, we’ll see you next week, and then we’re

free for six more days but not including
regular school, which isn’t much fun but
God doesn’t trouble us very much there.
But here in bed I don’t hear that last word
so I look at the clock and pretend it’s
the one on the wall in Sunday School, right
next to Jesus nailed up on the cross, and
when the second hand’s about to strike
12 I say it, Amen I mean. Mother
hears me and comes to the foot of the stairs
and asks me if I’ve called her, smoke rising
up the staircase. If I keep her waiting
long enough I’ll see it floating in front
of my open door. No ma’am, I say–I’m
asleep. Maybe she’ll think she heard Father.

 

Good Story

There’s nobody I love more than Jesus
except maybe Miss Hooker, my Sunday
School teacher and a damn fine one because
she tells good stories and she’s beautiful,
red hair and green eyes and dimples and moles
–and freckles, as if the whole universe
of stars is all over her body, though
I’ve never seen it, her body I mean,
and only God’s seen the whole universe,
when she’s naked I mean, if she ever
is. I guess she is sometimes. She takes baths
I guess and then she is, naked I mean,
and nobody sees her because she’s not
married–I think it’s against the law for
women to be naked without husbands,
if they’re married I mean. But she’s not so
there’s some hope for me even though I’m just
10 to her 25, she’s all grown up
and maybe I’m a little more than half
-way, or maybe I’ll be when I’m 16,
grown up I mean, driving and shaving and
spitting. Then it won’t be too long before
I can smoke, and drink Schlitz, but those are sins
and maybe spitting is, too, so I won’t
unless I have to. Sometimes I have to.
Of course Miss Hooker will be older, too,
over 30, and that’s getting up there.
Hell, my folks are 35 already
and Jesus was 33 when He died
and not just died but was murdered and not
just murdered but hammered to a cross and
crucified–I got it from Miss Hooker
who got it from God, at least the Bible,
it’s all in there somewhere, someday I’ll take
the time to read it good, every word,
and it’ll teach me something, not that it
doesn’t teach me anything now, it does
but it’s Miss Hooker who’s making it, she’s
sort of behind the words, not as behind
them as God is or Jesus or the saints,
whoever they are–the point is they’re dead
but still alive, like magic, in Heaven,
and the angels and Noah and Moses
and David and Abraham and Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John, and George, and Elvis–no,
just kidding and I hope that’s not a sin,
I take it back and tonight before I
go to sleep I’ll pray that God forgives me
and no offense to Elvis, he’s the King.
I just mean Miss Hooker knows her stuff and
wouldn’t it be neat if every night
if we were married and said our prayers
she’d send me off with a Bible story,
to sleep I mean. I might wink out before
she finishes so she’ll have to tell me
the next morning what I missed. So I’d end
the day with a good one, story I mean,
and start the next with the end of it.
That signifies something–I’m not sure what
but that’s God for you, everywhere and
hard to put your finger on all the same.
And since we’d be married then I would see
Miss Hooker without any clothes on, if
she’s willing, I sure hope so–diamond
rings don’t grow on trees but she seems to be
the kind of gal who would be square with me.
So if I marry her when I’m 18
she’ll be 33, there’s that age again,
and what that means is that she’ll have to die
before I do, if things just run their course
and I don’t croak by accident, fall off
a mountain or get Tommy-gunned in war
or run over or drowned or die of some
disease. No, if I’m lucky she’ll die first
and I’ll tell her on her deathbed, Thank you
for letting me see you naked on our
wedding night–that sure meant a lot to me,
and if she blushes so close to dying
for good and gives me that Miss Hooker-smile
–you can hardly see her eyes and her moles
sink into the quicksand of her dimples
–then I’ll know that there’s a Heaven waiting
for her and that I’ll see her again, if
I don’t go to Hell, that is. I’ll try like
Hell not to. She still owes me an ending.

 

The Second Knuckle of My Left Hand

My son is crying.
He wants me to see. He doesn’t want me
to see. What happened, I have to ask. I
had to ask. Nothin’, he replies. I know
he’s right–too many times something is

nothing, not that something’s not anything but
all its weight adds up to nothing, nothing
good.I struck out with the bases loaded,
he sobs–he confesses. Oh, I say. Well,
join the club. He’s talking about baseball,
though. A game. Win or lose, it’s over
when it’s over. I mean life but he doesn’t
understand but neither do I

tell him. Come to think of it–seems
I have to–no one lives forever no
matter how successful, except maybe
in fame and it’s not the same, even though
men say it is. Men say it is because
men are afraid. I sit beside him. Look,
I say, as we wait on the front porch for

justice–or mercy, which, as the father,
I’m supposed to know something about. He
expects it. He’s ready. It’s my job. I
put my arm around his sweaty neck and
put him in a headlock. I noogie him
with the second knuckle of my left hand.
There’s always next time, I say. But I lie
since, someday, there won’t be a next time. He
slips free of the headlock. I just struck out,

looking.

 

 

BIO

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

 

 

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