poems by Gale Acuff



If I loved Jesus any more than I

loved God wouldn’t that be like adultery

–idolatry I mean, at Sunday School

Miss Hooker’s my teacher and she swears God

and Jesus are one-and-the-same so how

can they be two as well and Mother says

after a glass of Manischewitz or

a cup, really, since they don’t shatter so

easily, she said that she and Father

are two hearts beating each to each and then

she sighed, I think it’s what’s they call a sigh,

and also one soul joined in wedded bliss

and then she fell asleep so I couldn’t

ask her what the Hell bliss means but Father

when he finally got home told me that

bliss means a happiness damn-near divine,

I think he must’ve been quoting a poem or some

favorite beer commercial, his, not mine, I

don’t drink, I’m only 10, I don’t drink much


but sometimes Father’s Falstaff when he’s not

looking or is resting his eyes, his way

of saying that the Game of the Week is

dull, and maybe I’ll finish off Mother’s

wine, if that’s what you call it, better drink

it cold or it goes down like 44

which, if you really want to know, will work

in a pinch and they don’t sell alcohol

to ten-year-old boys and sometimes I think

that if there really is a God, not that

there’s not but work with me here, if there’s

a God then ten-year-old boys could do most

anything they wanted to–Hell, make that

just plain anything, there’s your Perfection

and Paradise and Heaven-on-Earth and

Eden all in one total package but


now back to bliss: then Father said, You’ve been

talking to your mother again and I

said Yes sir, I think she gets lonely all

alone all day and he said Well, she’s not

all alone all day, you’re home from school by

three o’clock (maybe it was the numbers

he spoke, 3:00)–like I say, the world’s

not perfect but maybe that’s not all bad,

if Heaven’s what they swear it is at church

I’d get bored with it really PDQ

but anyway Father said I’ll look in

on her so he went back to their bedroom

and I went outside to play but didn’t,

I sat on the front porch and instead of

counting cars or moving vans or even

only pickup trucks I counted drivers

which pretty much covers everyone but

I could’ve gotten the same results if

I’d just counted vehicles instead but

somehow it isn’t quite the same, something’s


missing, they don’t tally up in a way

that says the world is round because it’s round

enough. What more could you not want to know?






I’ve been dead before–Miss Hooker says that

when I die I go to either Heaven

or Hell but dead is dead so I’m not scared

or at least I won’t let her see it, I

love her and want her to marry me when

I’m old enough, I’m 10, and she’s still not

too old, she’s 25, and if she thinks

I’m the bravest little boy she ever

met and later the bravest teenager

and still later the bravest young adult

then she’s bound to go for me, even fall


in love, the kind that makes for babies, I

don’t know how yet but I expect to learn

and when I do know almost everything

that God does, except for all about death

but on the other hand I was nowhere

before I was born and don’t remember

many of the details but how can death

be worse, just another beginning but

on the other side of life? I can’t wait

to talk to God about how He gives us

too many mysteries to solve and no

one has at least until they’re dead and that’s


cheating. But if I go to Hell instead

I’ll give Satan what God has given me, I

mean the bad stuff–I’ll hit him where we live.





At our church folks believe that Jesus died

so that when we do we really don’t, in

-stead we go to Heaven because that’s what

God wants and what’s the word that Miss Hooker

uses, it reconciles humanity

and God and humanity means men and

women and girls and boys, too, but my buds

who go to other churches say that we’re

wrong, so wrong, all wrong, it doesn’t matter

that Jesus was crucified if we don’t

believe that He’s the Son of God and some

-times, I confess, I don’t know what the Hell

to believe and sometimes I believe it

all and not just the Christian religion

but all types of it and even other

religions, too, maybe they’re all true and

maybe one day when I grow up, I’m 10

now, or even if I’m still a kid in

-side, inside of me I mean, I’ll start my


own religion, it’ll preach that no one

is correct, no one religion but for

that matter no one person is, either,

there’s some truth in everything and that seems

reasonable to me but wouldn’t it

be funny if I got crucified for

that and even funnier if I called

on God like Jesus did but He didn’t

call back, I mean that God helped me not be

-cause I betrayed Him the way some people

did me and that’s what nailed me up there, to

the Cross that is? I mean that I can’t fig

-ure out religion, all I know is that

one day I’ll die and maybe find out what’s

what but maybe then it’ll be too damned

late, speaking of funny, and if I knew

the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but that

right now, in this life I mean, dead I’d be


already. Whew. After Sunday School I

hit Miss Hooker with it but she rolled her

eyes and finally whispered from her big

chair Gale, you’re too young to worry about

such things, go home and change your clothes and have

dinner and then take a nap or go out

-side and play or both or even neither

but God wouldn’t be God if He let you

drive yourself crazy, He loves you too much

and so do I, and then she kissed me right on

my forehead, I flinched a little and shut

my eyes, it was kind of the kiss of death

you might say and when I’m actually

dead one day I’ll know exactly why but

as for now I think that Miss Hooker be

-trayed me and if the big Cross on


the wall of our sanctuary wasn’t

so high off the ground, the floor anyway,

I’d climb it and assume my position

and I wanted to tell Miss Hooker so

but I was afraid that she might kiss me

again and maybe that I’d kiss back and

then she might get with child. I’m still in school.




It’s like the world’s a puzzle and you try


to put it all together but it is

already. Did you do it right? Does this


piece fit? Check the front of the box. Picture

what it will be because that’s how it is


and if it doesn’t fit you can’t force it,

which is what I tried to do when I was


younger, parents, siblings, and friends trying

to show me how to match edge with edge. No,


that’s not right, Gale. That’s not going to work.

See? They don’t belong together, so try


another, or two more different ones. If

they’re the same color, for example, they


belong together. What’s for example

mean? Nevermind. You’re too young to know. I’m


not too young to know. He’s right, he’s not too

young. He’ll have to learn sometime, so show him


again. No one’s getting any younger.

Better to explain now. Hands are moving


across the table. In one corner there’s

the sun. And green by me, which must be grass.


Oh-h-h. But there’s some blue, ocean or sky,

floating in the center of the frame.


A hand brings another shape to it. Still

don’t know but at least they go together.


How many pieces in this puzzle? Five

hundred? That’s a heap. I can do the math,


one bit at a time, and still we’re not close

to being done. Well, a voice says, that’s not


the point. What is the point, I ask. Uh, what

does point mean? I mean it’s not what we want,


he says. What do we want, I ask. Just why

are we doing this if not to finish


eventually? Eventually,

they repeat, laughing. That’s a right big word,


young man. Good for you. Eventually,

we say as one. It’s a good word. If we


don’t want to finish why did we begin?

Like fishing, someone says. You might catch one


but if you don’t you’ve still had a fine time.

So have the fish, I say. Laughter. Why fish


if not to catch? It passes time, one says.

It’s fun. And anyway you already


know what it looks like. The fish, you mean? If

I don’t catch him how will I know what he


looks like? No, no, they laugh. The puzzle. You

already knew how it looked when you looked


at the box but that doesn’t stop you from

putting it together. It don’t help me,


neither, I cry. But it’s only a game,

they say. Only a game. It’s fun. Oh boy.

poems by Gale Acuff

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