By Gale Acuff
I have to die one day. In Sunday School
that’s the gospel. I think they got it from
inside the Bible somewhere. I ought to
read it more so no more surprises. I
don’t want to die but it’s the only way
to get to Heaven, Miss Hooker says–she’s
my teacher so it’s her job to know but
I wish she didn’t and wish she didn’t
say that if I sin too much I’ll go to
Hell. Sure, I’ll live forever there too, but
I’ll wish that I was dead and I’ll be dead
already, it’s that bad, flames and torture
and weeping, that means bawling I guess, and
gnashing of teeth, whatever that means but
it sounds like it hurts and when your soul hurts
I guess that’s real pain, like all your teeth have
toothaches and all at once and it won’t stop.
And the Hell of it is I like to sin,
not sin for the sake of sinning but sin
because I just can’t seem to stop myself.
Miss Hooker says that everybody does
so what I have to do is ask God to
forgive me and not just ask Him, she says,
but beg Him, that way He’ll know I’m sincere.
I’m not good at begging but my dog is.
He can tilt back on his haunches and hold
his paws up and you should see his face, he’s
pretty good at looking embarrassed if
there’s food to be had. I give him a treat
and then he’s happier, even ready
to beg again. I wish I was that smart
but without feeling stupid about it.
But when I say my prayers at night I
make a point of kneeling beside my bed
with my elbows on the covers and palms
against each other, fingers too, and he
can’t match that, nor even fold his paws, which
I do sometimes as if I’ve caught something
between them, a fly or lightning bug and
my eyes are shut so I can see Heaven
better but what it looks like is darkness
so maybe I’m just seeing into me,
and then I pray that Jesus will forgive
me so I won’t fry in Hell. I can do
tricks, too, but maybe God isn’t impressed
because He thinks I’m trying to trick Him.
And come the morning I’m ready to sin
again, I admit it. Yesterday it
was talking back to Mother when she said
to pick up my dirty clothes and again
when I didn’t. Friday it was cheating
on a pop quiz in geography–What’s
the capital of South Dakota?–and
who knows that? Hardly anybody. So
I looked over at Dusty Mather’s test
and his answer was Arkadelphia
so I sinned twice, by copying it
and getting it wrong, and by not reading
the homework from the day before, that’s three
times, four if you count my flunking the quiz.
So I’m well on my way to Hellfire and
Miss Hooker says that not only must I
pray to be forgiven but I’ve got to
mend my ways as well. I’m only 10 but
she’d make a good wife for me even though
she’s old, 25, and she’d keep me straight
for long enough so that I wouldn’t sin
so much and then I’d get to Heaven and
do whatever the Hell I wanted to
unless I die in sin, some accident.
And if I don’t, she being fifteen years
older will die first and leave me to sin
all over again, sorrow leads to sin
I guess, and I’ll go to Hell anyway
and be divided from her forever
and have all those toothaches, like I say, but
I don’t want to die at all and I’ll bet
just not wanting to is a sin itself.
Sometimes I ask why I was ever born.
God never answers and my dog just wags.
Gale Acuff : I have had poetry 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. 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.