I don't have much time left, Miss Hooker says

--God might come for me any moment, kill

me off, that is, that's what He does with death.

She's my Sunday School teacher, Miss Hooker

I mean. She says that we should act as if

every day will be our last because

our lives belong to God and He can take

them back whenever He wants to. I don't

want to die not knowing when I'm meant to

but Miss Hooker says we don't want to know

because if we did all we'd do is dread

the moment and she says I watch the clock

in Sunday School class too much as it is.

When it's eleven our class is nearly over

--that's the kind of death that makes me happy

because I’ll walk home and make me some lunch.

But Sunday School's always resurrected

in a week. One day I might even show

up for class and there's no more Miss Hooker,

God took her away, it was her time. Then

I guess we'd have a substitute. Or I

could die and never have another class

and Miss Hooker would miss me. I hope so

anyway. Maybe I'd go to Heaven

where I'd look down through the stars and clouds and

air pollution to watch her at work but

from a different angle, on the top of

her head, like her hair, only higher up,

or her hat, the one with phony flowers

that bloom forever even though they're so

dead they were never even alive. Or

I might land in Hell--I'll never argue

that I don't deserve it, and all I'll see

when I look up is the molten ceiling

while Satan’s hollering at me, Get back

in line for more fire and brimstone, so I'll

obey because after all God put me

there, with a little help from me, of course.

After Sunday School today I hoofed home

--on the wrong side of the road, not facing

traffic but going with it though slower.

I've lived to tell about it but I don't

know what to say. There's a lot of litter

but I know that going the right way, too.

                                          --Gale Acuff


One day Miss Hooker will go to Heaven

when she dies I mean, or just after, her

soul leaving her body and going up

--if Heaven's up--to Heaven like I say

where it will stand before the Throne of God

if it has legs, her soul I mean--can souls

have legs?--and wait for His judgment, whether

she can hang or has to go to the Bad

Place, that's what Miss Hooker calls Hell, where I'll

go almost for sure when I die is what

she warns me about since I sin too much

but there's no chance that she'll go to Hell so

after we die I'll never see her more

so I need to make my move, the sooner

the better, I mean I need to tell her

that I love her and want to marry her

and have us some babies but I'm only

10 and she's 25 and that's fifteen

years difference, which doesn't matter as much

as the fact that she won't go out with me

until I'm a man, maybe that's 16,

shaving and driving and a deeper voice

and hair down-there and inside my armpits.

She'll be 31 then, pretty old but

I'll overlook that, I'm decent that way,

and we'll date and if she's had enough fun

I'll ask her to marry me and borrow

twenty bucks to buy her an engagement

ring and she'll say sure and that will be that

and she'll keep me good, it'll just rub off

on me from her and after a few years

she'll die first and then I'll die fifteen years

later and join her in Heaven and live

that new way God promised--or did Jesus,

or maybe both because though they're Father

and Son they're one and the same, don't ask

me how, that's why it's called religion--I mean

eternally, which is like forever,

a time just as deep as it is long and

our children will join us when their lives lapse.

I don't remember what happens after

that--sometimes in Sunday School I just watch

Miss Hooker at work, I'm not hearkening

because that's how love is, the fine feeling

kind of makes you ignorant. I wonder

how we'll kill eternity in Heaven,

besides just being sappy all the time.

Maybe it's the perfect place for sinning

just to break things up. I'm damn good at that.

                                             --Gale Acuff


Sometimes instead of going to Sunday

School I wander through the cemetery

behind it and hear Miss Hooker, she's my

teacher, singing, and my classmates, too, but

she's got the purest voice or is that just

the loudest, from our portable building

as I read the names and months and days and

years of all the dead people out here and

realize that I'll join them one day but

I have to be dead myself and I'm not

ready but Miss Hooker says get ready

anyway since death can come at any

time and if God catches me with my pants

down, sinning I mean, not that Miss Hooker

said anything about my pants down, that

was me and it's probably a sin to

use that, then it's automatically

Hell, for my soul anyway, my body

will stay in a box in the ground and rot

but more slowly than if it was on top

but of course the animals would eat it

so it's not like I'll have died in vain, dogs

have to eat, too, and cats and buzzards and

mice and flies. Maybe snakes. I'll go on in

their bellies, if flies have bellies, my soul

won't care anyway.  And here everyone's

safe, their bodies I mean, their dead bodies

but only God knows what's up with their souls,

or down. I expect that I'll go to Hell

right now if I die since I ought to be

in Sunday School instead of laying-out

so I'm looking for the place I'd like to

rest, my body anyway. There's one not

taken yet, underneath that lonesome pine,

but it might be tough to dig me under

it, trees have roots you never see but if

my family loves me they'll foot the bill.

I'm sure that I can look down from Heaven                                              

but will I be able to spy from Hell,

grass growing over my mound, and my own

new headstone, and pine cones bouncing

off it and snow covering in winters?

Thank God I can see it now anyway,

it looks pretty damn good and I'd be proud

to be the reason underneath it all,

at least my body will be proud because

I plan to leave a little soul behind

to appreciate what's left of me that

got me this far anyway. I'll sit down

here now just to get accustomed to it.

I'd lie but I'm afraid I'd fall asleep.

              --Gale Acuff

Seeing Everything

One day she'll be dead, Miss Hooker, she's my

Sunday School teacher, at least for this year,

and after that I'll have someone else so

I'll only see her around now and then

but I might duck inside my old classroom

in our portable building to greet her

or in a few years maybe take her out

on a date if she's not married by then and

I'm surprised she's not now, red hair and

green eyes and freckles and dimples and moles

and God knows what else she's got underneath

her clothes--only her husband will know, they

sleep together do husbands and wives, if

they're not squabbling, that is, and that's how they

make babies, by bunking together nights,

at least I think so, I'm only 10 to

Miss Hooker's 25, so I won't wait

too long before I ask her out, there's not

much time left for her or at least for us,

together, I mean, as husband and wife

or maybe that's really wife and husband.

And God. I mean, God knows what she looks like

without any clothes. And of course she does

too. I can see in the dark pretty well

so when we're married I'll see her and she'll

see me so we'll see each other and God

will see us both--He can see everything.

It'll be like we'll be Adam and Eve

except there won't be any sin yet or

that's what we'll think, we'll be so much in love

with each other, for a spell anyway.

Then the babies commence, I don't know how

but she probably will so she'll show me.

But because she's fifteen years older she's

bound to die first, leaving me and the kids

to visit her grave. We'll go once a week,

after church. Or maybe we'll quit and join

another church where I won't think of her

and what she used to mean to me before

she meant my life. Then I guess I'll die

and see her in Heaven, if I measure

up. I sure as Hell hope so. Love's damned hard.

                  --Gale Acuff


I can't say enough about Miss Hooker,

my Sunday School teacher, but I sure as

Hell can try. She's got red hair and green eyes

and about a jillion freckles and who

knows, besides God and her, just how many

she has all over her? She's not married

so her husband wouldn't know because she

doesn't have one. Yet. When you're married you

take your clothes off and I mean in front of

your husband, or wife, as the case may be,

and maybe every night. That would be

exciting, especially the first time

when you see each other naked, Adam

and Eve-like but they weren't embarrassed 'til

after they ate the wrong apple and then,

whoops, they saw through almost everything

except, I guess, the Devil, and that was

before he tempted them into eating. And

then they knew that they were naked and that

bothered them when it shouldn't have. I'd go

without clothes if I could get away with

it. I wonder if that means I'm closer

to God than most folks are. Maybe not--I'm

not hot about seeing them naked. I'm

only 10 and a few years from manhood,

when I think I'd like it more, or better.

I guess it depends on the other one.

If Miss Hooker was my wife it wouldn't

bother me. The trick is to get her to

feel just the same about me and that's love

if it's anything. I'd count her freckles

but it would be all in fun. But she's old,

25 or so, so if we're to be

married then I need a miracle, which

is God's department. Every night I pray

that He'll make us wake up the same age, say

18, so we can get on with our life                                                       

together. Sometimes I say to God, If

You're who You say You are and the Good

Book, too, then here's Your chance to prove it, but

I think that's tempting Him and that's a sin

so I quickly ask to be forgiven

because I've got so many already,

sins I mean. I wonder if Miss Hooker

has any but just to look at her she's

perfect, but only God is, and Jesus,

so there must be something wrong with her. I

guess I'd find out after we've been married

a spell but then I guess I'd forgive her.

If God can do it, so can I, if He

helps me. But if Miss Hooker's still single when

she's even older, maybe 33

to my 18, then I'll ask her out and

if she's had a good time I'll ask her out

again and if she's had a good time or

maybe even a better one, then on

our third date I'll drop to one knee and ask

her to make me the happiest man on

the face of the earth--it has freckles, too,

after a fashion, and it turns on its

neck and as for the rest of its body

maybe it's all soul and we can't see it

because it reaches into outer space as

far as it can, trying to touch Heaven,

which moves even farther away because

it's infinite, which means that it goes on

forever. It's good the earth is limber

like Plastic Man or Mister Fantastic,

Elasti-Girl or Elongated Man.

Miss Hooker will always be fifteen years

older than I am, there's no catching up

and maybe I don't even want to--if

I did it might be the end of the world

and if God did give me a miracle

and wake us up the same age He might scare

us both to death and we'd need another

miracle just to keep us alive, not

that He couldn't hack it but I'd hate to

take advantage of Him. For now it's fine

just to see Miss Hooker in Sunday School,

what she's made of, and to listen to her

tell a Bible story just as though she'd

been there herself to witness the events.

I don't want to say I worship her but

it's pretty damn close. And I wonder what

our babies would look like--if they'd have

red hair and green eyes and freckles like their

mother and whatever markings I have

on me, I'm not much to look at but I've

got a good heart if you know where to look.

But don't look too hard or you might lose sight.

                   --Gale Acuff


Would there be any Miss Hooker to love

anymore if she died? She's my Sunday

School teacher and pretty old, 25

to my 10, so she's closer to God than

I am and I guess closer to death, too,

old age being old like it is, or was,

because it gets even older, until

it runs out of time--run out of time and

you're dead, in Heaven or Hell, depending

on how good or bad you've been while you're still

alive, and if you want eternal life

then first you've got to die for it, she says.

So maybe I could still love her when she's

gone but I could never kiss her, not like

I could now, if I was older, 16

maybe, and braver, too, which I'm not, brave

I mean. Maybe the older you get then

the less you fear it, death that is. That's good

because I'm afraid enough as it is

of dying and winding up in Hell and

even Heaven scares me, nothing's real there

like it is here, on earth I mean, and I'm

used to it, the ground beneath my feet and

air to breathe and water to swim in, fish

in, too, and Miss Hooker, her red hair and

green eyes and freckles. Will she have them in

Heaven and will they look the same and if

I get up there myself when I'm dead will

I even care or will I be crazy

just for God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost?

I hope not. I guess I'll never marry

Miss Hooker but I expect I'll still be

sweet on her in Heaven. I'll tell her so,

too. I wonder what she'll say. I wonder

if I'll get kicked out of Heaven for that.

Your mind's not enough on Me, God might say,

not that it was while you were alive. He'll               

have me there. Maybe Miss Hooker will stick

up for me. Maybe God will send us both

to Hell. I'll apologize to her for

getting her in trouble. Then we'll be true.

                --Gale Acuff


Sometimes on Saturdays I walk to church

to see what things are like when there's no class,

Sunday School I mean. Sometimes someone leaves

our portable building open so I

sneak in and take my usual seat in

the half-circle and gaze at Miss Hooker's

bigger blue chair. She's my teacher and I

want to marry her someday and that way

I'll get closer to God and it will be

harder for Him to send me to Hell since

Miss Hooker gets to go to Heaven sure

or there isn't one, a Heaven I mean.

She'll live in the clouds, or is it outer

space--wherever the heck Heaven is--with

her red hair and green eyes and freckles but

they'll be redder and greener and even

frecklier, if that's possible--she's

pretty near perfect as she lies and I

almost tell her so every Sunday after

class but I choke. Last Sunday I went up

to her while she was slipping a hymnal

into her pocketbook, I guess that's not

a sin because whatever she does just

can't be even though all folks sin, she says,

and spoke her name--Miss Hooker--just like that,

and it was enough to shut me down so

when she asked, Yes, Gale, how can I help you

all I could do was smile and say nothing.

But I think she understood, she has ways,

and smiled back and that told me everything

I need to know, whatever that is, I

don't know really but feel as if I do

and maybe that's called the Holy Spirit

or maybe it's just plain ignorance. I split

without saying goodbye because she's not

the kind of soul you say goodbye to so

when she's dead, she's 25 to my 10

so she doesn't have long, I'll say hello

to her in her coffin and it will be

her turn to keep mum--we share a secret

the way lovers do. Tomorrow I'll see

her again, and our house full of children.

Gale Acuff has  had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, 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.
He has  taught university English courses in the US, China, and Palestine.