Poetry from Gale Acuff

Future Perfect

I say my prayers every night, first
the Lord’s, which we say in Sunday School and
Miss Hooker leads it. I’m in love with her
and I’ll marry her one day even though
she’s 25 or so and I’m just 9
and that’s sixteen years’ difference if my
take-away is right, and even though she’ll
always have sixteen on me, I don’t care
because my love is strong and nobody
could love her better, I know, except
for God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost but
that’s not fair, I mean nobody human
so when I’m 16 I’ll ask her out on
a date. I’m sure she’ll still be single then
because I pray about her every night
after I say the Lord’s Prayer, which is
what Jesus said Himself and told the folks
to pray that way so how could they miss? and
then I pray for my parents and my pals
and even my enemies–I don’t have
any but one day I will so I should
be ready for them. Sometimes I can’t wait
for someone to hate me just to see how
loving them this way will make them lose, lose
in a way that won’t hurt them, I mean, they
can’t be all bad if at least they’re giving
me attention. And then my dog, that he
goes to dog-Heaven when he dies, a good
boy he is, too, and can sit and stay and
speak and shake hands, or is it paws, and chase
sticks and balls and rocks and fallen apples
and cats and squirrels and one time he treed
a ‘possum but ran off when the ‘possum
showed his teeth and I’m not ashamed for him,
I ran, too. And mice and rabbits and stray
dogs and cats and the substitute mailman
who smells funny, I guess. Then I come to
Miss Hooker, that she’ll be safe, and single

for as long as possible and at least
’til I shave and drive and my voice goes deep
and everything I say sounds serious
even if I’m cracking jokes or laughing
or crying, if it comes to that. Dear God
(I pray),Miss Hooker’s meant for me and You
know it as well as I do so let’s just
agree that You’ll have her wait until she
sees that I’m the man for her even if
she doesn’t see that now but maybe You
could work on her some even now so that
I’ll have enough of her heart that she can’t
love somebody less unless she loves me to
the end. Amen. Then I roll over and
hug my extra pillow and hope I’ll dream
it’s turned into Miss Hooker in my sleep
and we wake to Saturday morning, when
we don’t do anything we damn well don’t
want to do, so maybe we’ll watch cartoons
and eat pizza and cake and ice cream for
breakfast and then get dressed, or not,
maybe we’ll just stay in our pajamas,
and go for a drive by the duck pond
and walk around and around, holding hands
or each other close, waist to waist, and then
drive home again and when we get there we
open the front door, or I open it
for her, I’m a gentleman. A baby’s
on the sofa with a note pinned to its
diaper, To Gale and Miss Hooker (He knows
her first name and I hope to have learned it
by then), Love, God. So that’s when I’ll know
where children come from and if it’s a boy
we’ll name him after me and if a girl
maybe we’ll name her Mary or Ruth or
Esther or Eve or Lily or Pauline.
I’ll save the future for another dream,
the rest of ours together, I mean, and
wrap it all up with a dream of Heaven,
if I get to go–I’m sure Miss Hooker
will so if I go to Hell, I’ll miss her,
but I suspect that most men do. Since she’s
16 years older I guess she’ll die first
so I’ll visit her until it’s my time
but will always feel she’s waiting for me
like I hope she is now. In Sunday School
last week I tried to catch Miss Hooker’s eye
while she was going on about the Flood,
especially that part about the dove
who comes back to the ark with evidence
that there’s dry land somewhere, some grass in his
beak, or is it bill, a good sign that God
was easing up and that the boat should dock
and let the animals out, maybe two
by two all again, and if Miss Hooker
and I were in the thing we’d walk away
two by two, too, and start the world again
and though it wouldn’t be Eden we
wouldn’t need that anyway, we’d have each
other and all those animals as pets
and when she dies they’ll keep me company
until I die and join her–I’ll be good
–and we’ll be in Heaven together and
hold hands and walk around and around clouds
full of happy birds and then fly home to
watch the Heavenly News or eat manna,
I hope they have Neapolitan, and
maybe go to bed if sleep’s still needed
up there, then wake to see each other and
thank God we’re not alive anymore and
not really dead. And maybe say prayers
if we still need to. And play with the dog.
          –Gale Acuff
Death doesn’t want to kill me, Miss Hooker
says, but he’s got no choice, he’s just doing
his job, the way I do mine, or at least
my parents do theirs, I’m only 10, and
she’s doing hers, trying to save my soul,
my immortal, eternal soul, from Hell.
That’s awfully nice of her but I’m not
easy, I can sin like nobody’s business,
swearing, and last Friday I cheated on
my English quiz in regular school, and
yesterday I swiped some Juicy Fruit from
the Elmore Five & Dime but they’ll never
miss it, Satan whispered in my ear and
I still think he’s right, but my good angel,
maybe it was even Jesus, told me
that the gum wasn’t really mine to take
and after I took it even less mine
than before. And I talk back to my folks
and hardly ever clean my room and
the tie I wear to Sunday School is fake,
just a clip-on and that’s another sin,
I bet. And then there’s Death. Lazarus got
saved from him, Miss Hooker said–I might not
get off so easily but it isn’t Death
I need to fear, she says, more like myself
because if I keep on sinning, she says,
then when I die I’ll find myself in Hell.
So if I’m going to die anyway
the place to wind up in is Heaven–I
might be dead but I won’t care that I am
because I’ve got to be to be happy
forever. And Death doesn’t want to kill
us but he’s bound to, he gets paid for it
somehow. I wonder how much God slides him.
I wonder if he makes more than baseball
players or the President. I wonder
what he spends his money on. I wonder
if when he kills me I can ask him all
these questions–I guess I’d better talk fast.
It’s too bad that I won’t be able to
spread the word about him when he kills me.
Maybe it’s God Who does all the killing
and Death is just His employee. Maybe
if Death didn’t kill people then God would
kill him. So maybe he’s being blackmailed.
I feel sorry for him, his family
too. He must be old and past retirement.
What’s stopping him from walking off the job?
I guess it’s not the money but the hours.
I could follow him. I’ve got young ideas.
      –Gale Acuff
Second Wind
In Sunday School today Miss Hooker died.
Not really but it was real in my dream.
She’s my teacher and if I lose her then
I’m not sure what else is worth living for
except maybe my dog and my parents
and God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost
and comic books. I fell asleep in class
but only for a moment but in dreams
there’s no real time, at least not by the clock,
so it lasted longer. Miss Hooker died
choking on a doughnut and even though
she tried to swallow orange juice to flush it
down the juice just came out of her mouth as
she gasped like they do in my comic books
Gasp!–but several times, and her face turned
as red as her hair and even her green
eyes and pink freckles, so many freckles,
went scarlet so she looked like Satan but
without the horns though her glasses bear them
on each side, and without Satan’s hooves but
her open-toed shoes look a little like
and without a tail but her bottom sticks
out some, I saw Father studying it
when we saw her at the Korn Dawg King last
Friday night, that’s where we eat out weekends,
but Mother had gone to powder her nose
which means to the bathroom but I can’t say
it, I tried once and Father laughed and then
explained to me that men don’t powder their
noses, which made me think I’m a man but
I’m only 10 but I will be one day,
a man that is, and besides some men wear
dresses, in Scotland and San Francisco
and in New Orleans at the Mardi Gras
and somewhere with a funny name down in
Brasil. I watch TV and read Newsweek,
the words I can understand I mean, and string
a few of them together and make some
sense. So I tried to save Miss Hooker by
pushing my classmates out of the way and
giving her mouth-to-mouth–what’s that big word?
re-sus-ci-ta-tion. Resurrection’s what
that’s like except you’re not as dead, I mean
if you can be re-sus-ci-tat-ed. So
I stuck my middle finger down her throat
to unclog it but that didn’t work so
I sucked her mouth but that didn’t take so
I blew like Hell but almost lost my own
breath and then I tried that Heimlich-thing
but I couldn’t heft her, I’m small for my
age and my classmates had all run away
and that’s what death will do, kill everyone
it can even if it can’t right away.
Just to be fair, I guess I’d do the same.
So Miss Hooker died. When I woke up there
she was, lording over me and asking
if I’d had anicenap and my classmates
giggling. Then you’re not dead, I said. Not yet
she said. You must’ve had an awful dream.
I said, Yes ma’am, but sometimes dreams come true,
bad ones, too. Then she commanded me to
lead us in the Lord’s Prayer. That’s wanting
to change the subject but it’s still the same,
dying I mean, we just pretend to talk
about something else. After class we had
doughnuts and orange juice. I told Miss Hooker
to take small bites. I watched her carefully.
I would’ve fed her myself if I could.
With my luck she would’ve choked on a hole.
             –Gale Acuff


In fifteen minutes Sunday School will be
over and then after my classmates leave
I’ll have Miss Hooker all to myself, not
forgetting God, of course, and Jesus, and
the Holy Ghost, and whoever else up
in Heaven might be looking down on us,
watching I mean, to see what happens when
I tell Miss Hooker, all twenty-five years
of her, that I love her. And I’ll add that
although I’m only 10 I’m growing fast
although I’ll always be small for my age
but I’m tough and can protect her and
our children from harm, except accidents
that I can’t control, and death, of course, but
Death is God calling us back to Heaven
is what she says, and I’ll remind her, so
before she can say anything because
she might say, too, that she doesn’t love me,
I’ll tell her that I’ve been praying for us
every night since I’ve been in her class
and sometimes during the day, too, daydreams
during regular school, and when I do
chores at home, sweeping and mopping to earn
my quarter-a-week allowance. And more
–setting the table and clearing it and
washing dishes and drying and making
my bed and picking up my comic books
and feeding the cat and checking the mail
and the newspaper and whatever else
my folks push off on me, I don’t mind but
they don’t come to church themselves, they sleep late
and when I get home they’re still in their robes
and Father hasn’t shaved and Mother’s not
wearing her face, I mean a fairer one,
I mean one with makeup. But I don’t want
Miss Hooker and me to end up like that,
not that they’re not good as far as parents
go. No, I want Miss Hooker and me to
be husband and wife, or wife and husband,
but feel as though we never will get spliced,
anticipation I mean, like honey
dropping off the spoon and you can almost
taste it and sometimes you can’t wait and stick
a finger in the first long thread that falls
but you need more on your peanut butter
sandwich, of course, but still the first bit’s best
and I’d hate to spoil love by marrying
but if we don’t then we can’t make babies,
there’s a law, so sometimes you’ve got to end
before there’s a beginning. Maybe it’s
in the Bible. If not, then it should be.
So when Miss Hooker sets us free today
she won’t free me, she’ll never let me go
whether she knows it or not and my job
is to make sure that she don’t–set me free
that is. That she doesn’t, I mean. If she
tells me that she’s flattered but I must wait
a few years, that’s acceptable. If she
tells me she has a boyfriend, I’ll offer
to fight him and may the best man win. But
if she says she’ll wait for me forever
then maybe I should find another gal
–I’ll be suspicious, like I am at home
with Mother near my bedtime when she starts
yawning to get me in the mood so she
won’t have to say what we both know is so,
that one day I have to die and sleep’s good
practice and practice makes perfect. I go.
         –Gale Acuff
I have had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Concho River 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. I have 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).

     I have taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.