When I die I won’t, that’s what they swear to
at church and Sunday School and I’m ten years
old or they say ten years young so what
do I know that they don’t but even so
if I don’t know much I don’t know some of
it a lot, I mean I do know a bit
but know it a lot, deep-down, so I think
that when you die you’re really dead, no here
-after nor Eternity, Heaven nor
Hell, but when I said so after Sunday
School this morning I had to take it
back because my teacher cried, it’s weeping
is what it is in the Good Book, grief that’s
real, you feel it as if somebody’s died,
somebody like your father or mother
or dog or Ferro Lad in the Legion
of Super-Heroes or your uncle in
Vietnam or maybe even Jesus
on the Cross at Calvary, cavalry
I called it in Sunday School this morning
and everybody laughed at me and at
regular school when I said Calvary
while we were talking about the Old West
so when I die I hope I really die
even if life lives better in Heaven,
even if Hell’s like Earth but as bad.
I left a handkerchief with Miss Hooker
at Sunday School – she’s promised to take it
home and wash it and return it next week
and it’s Father’s so I’ll have to come back
and get it and I’m glad she didn’t need
his cufflinks – can you dry your eyes with stones?
Infinite Mercy, Etc.
After Sunday School I walk home and hope
I don’t get run over crossing the turn
-pike but I know that if I do I’ll wake
up dead in Heaven where God will judge
my soul and if it doesn’t measure up
He’ll send me down to Hell, I’m good with Hell,
for ten years old I can sin like someone
older, not that I’m proud of it, pride is
a sin after all, or too much of it,
but if I get to hang in Heaven, God’s
infinite mercy and so on, I guess
I’ll be satisfied. And sometimes I cross
the road and don’t bother to look either
way, if I don’t hear death on wheels coming
I just plow ahead, I guess I’m tempting
fate, also known as God, but I can’t help
myself sometimes, I told my Sunday
School teacher what I do and she looked at
me in horror, then started to cry, so
I lied to make her feel better, I said
I was just kidding, ma’am, and that dried her
up and then I said goodbye – it’s funny
how not telling the truth helps things along,
it made her feel better but sooner or
later I guess it will slay me and when
I die and if I discover there’s no
God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost, no
nothing at all, I think I’ll kill myself.
I love everybody, it’s not like I
have a choice, it’s either love ’em or go
to Hell and burn eternally and what’s
worse, I mean what’s more, is I’m my brother’s
keeper, which means I’m responsible for
everyone else and they’re supposed to be
responsible for me but no one is
that I know of but in fairness I’m not
as responsible to them as I could
be but this is religion, it’s just not
possible but it sounds so sweet and that’s
what I told my Sunday School teacher this
morning after class, it’s good if someone
ask for your shirt and you give him your coat
to boot and maybe cap and gloves but
then you yourself are the soul in a fix
and the person you helped will just have to
give back all your duds to you, and then she
laughed, my Sunday School teacher, but then she
cried, in the Bible it’s weeping, so I
did, too, wept I mean. It wasn’t so hard.
No one lives forever they promise at
church and Sunday School and that includes me,
especially me they make me feel since
today our teacher tossed me out of class
for falling asleep and it wasn’t fair
how she woke me–I thought to welcome me
back–then took me by the hand and drew me
to the door and then she gently pushed me
out or maybe it was gentle to her
but before we could make the threshold I
stepped ahead of her and pulled her along
and of course she resisted and that should
be good practice for when I get married.
And you could say a little child shall lead
them, as I did her. I just made that up.
I love God but not enough so I go
to Sunday School to learn why I should more.
In fact I haven’t missed in twenty weeks.
It’s really Miss Hooker who brings me back.
–I love her more than I love Jesus Christ.
I take that back–that’s a terrible sin,
which is the worst kind. It’s called blasphemy,
I think. But whatever you call it, it’s
not good, and probably not fair to God,
Who deserves better and made us all and
everything in the world, not to mention
the world itself–oops, I just did–and all
Creation. Everywhere. As it is on
earth and in outer space and beyond that,
if anything is really that beyond.
Still, I’d like just once to catch a glimpse of
Him. If I had my camera with me
I’d shoot Him and sell the photo for big
bucks, like the pepperoni do–is that
what they’re called?–or better yet, blackmail Him.
No. That wouldn’t be kosher and He’s so
mighty anyway that He’d just snatch it
and probably send me to Hell, to boot.
I don’t know why I think such crazy thoughts.
Did God make me so or was it Satan?
I can’t quite remember where I went wrong
or even if I did. After class I
might ask Miss Hooker–I can’t ask my folks
questions like these. They always ask me if
I’ve done my homework or fed the dog or
swept the porch or taken out the garbage
or cleaned up my room or made up my bed
or put my toys away (toys? I’m too old
for toys) or checked the mail and newspaper
or brushed my teeth (up and down, not sideways)
and put the toilet seat down when I’ve peed
and washed my hands thoroughly and dried them
and on a clean towel, not on my shirt.
For every question I ask, they ask more.
Miss Hooker’s pretty old, nearly 30,
I guess, but still younger than my parents
so she’s not quite dead from the heart up yet.
After class last Sunday I helped her put
the folding chairs away against the wall.
Thank you, Gale, she said. That was a big help.
Yes, ma’am, I said. You’re welcome. I want to
ask a question. Okay, she said. God is
everywhere, isn’t He, I asked. Yes,
she said. Okay, I said. So how come I
can’t see Him? I mean face to face. How come?
She took her glasses off and smoothed her hair.
You were looking with your eyes, she said. Try
looking with your heart. She put her glasses
on again and gazed clear through me and I
almost turned around to see what was there
that was so interesting. I even
pinched myself–ouch–to be sure that I was
real. Or maybe she couldn’t see me like
I can’t see God. Does that make me godly?
A moment later she recognized me.
It’s you, she said. Yes, I said. Now you know.
— Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Reed, Journal of Black Mountain College Studies, The Font, Chiron Review, Poem, Adirondack Review, Florida Review, Slant, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Roanoke Review, and many other journals in a dozen countries. He has authored three books of poetry: 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.