I Shall Not Want
Jesus, He’s my Lord and Saviour, which means
that when I croak my body will, die that
is, but my soul will go to Heaven to
be judged and chances are I’ll get to stay
there, in Heaven I mean, for forever,
which means Eternity. At Sunday School
I’m the first to come and the last to go,
except for Miss Hooker herself, she’s our
teacher, and usually I beat her
there in the morning, too, and wait for her
Ford F-150 pickup, she’s driving
it, of course, and it’s red with lots of chrome,
real, not fake, kind of like Jesus Himself.
I sit there on the two-by-four and ply
-wood porch of our portable building, kill
time in the dark and by the time it’s time
for Sunday School the sun’s up, like Jesus
again, I guess, and when it’s time to go
the sun’s hotter and moving up the sky,
and when I wake from my afternoon nap
at home it’s as hot as it can be, at
least for summer. I know that God loves me
because I love Miss Hooker, and I want
to marry her when I’m old enough, not
10 like I am now but 18 maybe
to her then-33, that’s religion
for you, don’t ask me why, wait until I
start shaving and driving and my armpits
smell like compost piles. Bad, but not wicked
After Sunday School today I proposed
to Miss Hooker, my teacher, marriage was
on my mind even though she’s 25
to my 10, it’s never too early to
make a promise and keep it but of course
she turned me down although she said she felt
flattered but one day when I’m older, much
older, I can come back and try again
so I said, Yes ma’am, thank you, and I hope
you’ll still be single then because I’d hate
to bust things up between you and your man
and she laughed and said, Yes, I’d hate for you
to have to, and then I said goodbye but
before I could turn and walk out of our
portable building she bent over did
Miss Hooker, in my direction I mean,
her face I mean and kissed me on the cheek,
the left one but I’m right-cheeked for chewing
most of the time anyway unless it’s gum
and my jaw gets tired so I park my chew
on the other side and I almost asked
If I turn the other cheek would you kiss
that one, too, which would’ve been biblical
and would’ve worked in my favor as well
so that Miss Hooker would remember that
I’m the man for her but instead I wiped
it off forgetting that might offend her
which it must’ve because she asked, Are
you wiping my kiss away, Gale? so I
thought fast, it must’ve been inspiration,
the divine kind, that’s the kind that comes from
God, and answered, No ma’am, I’m rubbing it
in, which saved me, so she kissed me again
and I kissed back but even though I missed
I came pretty damn close. That’ll teach her.
Miss Hooker is my Sunday School teacher
and the prettiest woman in the world,
even prettier than Mother–I hope
it’s not a sin to say so–even
though I haven’t seen every woman
in the world. I just believe in God and if
I believe that Jesus is His Son and
died for my sins and everyone else’s,
too, past, present, and future, then I’ll go
to Heaven when I die. I don’t want to
–die, I mean–but if I have to, and I
have to, then Heaven is the place to be
and not Hell, which is like being inside
a black car with black interior on
the hottest day of summer, the windows
rolled up and the car full of people and
we smell bad and all the doors are locked from
the outside and the windows are too thick
to crack and we can’t get out and that’s Hell
and it’s sure not for me. But if I sin
that’s what Hell will be like, Miss Hooker says,
not that she knows firsthand but that she knows
her Bible and goes to junior college
at night. And she has red hair and green eyes
and about a zillion freckles and that’s
just on the parts of her I can see so
who knows how many she’s got everywhere?
God knows–I can’t know because that’s a sin.
I wonder if Miss Hooker knows herself.
Probably. Maybe when she’s got spare time
she counts them and counts them again. I hope
she doesn’t lose count and then starts over.
Poor thing. I had a dream one night that she
was sleeping and somehow I was in her
room and took a crayon and connected
all those freckles like dots. I had to pull
back her bedsheet to do it and almost
woke her, it was pretty close, and then I
had to wait until she turned over so
I could finish the job and she looked just
a mess when I was through but I guess I
connected the dots the wrong way and made
the wrong picture. But I could try again
if she took a bath and washed ’em away
but that will be another dream and I
can never seem to dream the dream I want,
I only dream by accident, I guess.
So I’d rather go to Heaven and I
might die at any time so if I die
in sin it’s Hell for sure, so the best way
to protect myself is to marry her
when I’m old enough. I’m only 10 now
and she’s getting old, 25 I’d say,
so when I’m all grown up, 16 maybe
to her 31, then I’ll ask her out
and to save time because she won’t have much
left I’ll ask for her hand when I take her
home. I hope that I don’t dream tonight I
walk her home and say, Miss Hooker, may I
have your hand in marriage, Baby, and she
uses one hand to pull the other off
and hands it to me. So sometimes I do
dream what I think about in daytime but
hardly ever what I really want and
I don’t want any nightmares because that’s
Satan trying to fool with me but if
I lie in bed after I say the Lord’s
Prayer and one for my dog and one for
my folks and one for Miss Hooker–I save
the best for last–and pretend I’m looking
right at her up there on my ceiling then
I’ll fall asleep with beauty on my mind
and dream about that, her gigantic face
looking down on me like I’m her baby
and me reaching up and mouthing Mama.
And if she bends to kiss me I’ll kiss first.
Fries with That
Grace Hooker is my Sunday School teacher.
Mother says her skirt’s too short but Father
disagrees. Oh no, he says–it’s just right.
Mother frowns and frowns. He doesn’t look back.
He keeps staring straight ahead. In the rear
-view mirror I can see him trying not
to smile. We’re on our way home from chowing
Sunday lunch at the Buffeteria.
I saw Miss Hooker there with her boyfriend.
Or maybe her brother. I’m not sure. I
hope he’s her brother because I love her
and want to marry her. Oh sure, she loves
her brother, too, if that’s who he is, but
that’s a different kind of love so I
still have a chance, a wee one, to woo her
–she’s a lot older, at least 25
to my 10. So I’ve been praying like hell
–like heck, I mean–every night that God
will shave the difference off our ages
down at least a bit so that when I’m old
enough, say 16, to date her, she’ll be
only 20 and then I’ll have a shot.
I’ll borrow Father’s car and pick her up
–it’s Mother’s, too, but she doesn’t drive. And
she won’t sit as far away from me as
Mother sits from Father, no sir–she’ll sit
plumb next to me. I’ll have my arm around
her and her head will rest on my shoulder
and I’ll steer with my left hand, which is free,
and just two fingers, maybe, like Elvis
does in his movies. I’ll sing like him, too.
After supper we’ll go to the show, then
to the drug store for hot fudge sundaes,
then to the back of the drug store to look
at the comic books. Look–Wonder Woman,
I’ll say. I didn’t know you had your own
comic book. She’ll like that. She’ll laugh and blush.
Look, she’ll say–Superman. Just like you.
But I’m looking for Batman so I guess
I’ll buy him and some chocolate-covered
cherries for her, and then I’ll take her home
and we’ll sit on the porch with her brother
until he starts yawning and goes inside.
Then we’ll sit on the porch swing and we’ll look
into each other’s eyes until we feel
a kiss coming on and we’ll close them tight
to meet it. Smack. I guess I’d better go,
I say. Oh no, she says–it’s early yet.
I’m sorry, Darling, I say, but I’ve got
school tomorrow. Oh, I forgot, she says.
Gotcha, I say–tomorrow’s Saturday,
and we laugh and laugh and I don’t get home
until at least 9:30. Hello, son,
my parents say. Did you have a good time?
Yes, I say–I had the time of my life.
At the Buffeteria I have steak. It’s
the best part of the cow. And french fries and
apple pie. Mother and Father light their
cigarettes and I wave the smoke away
but I’m not too disgusted. Father asks
What did you learn from Miss Hooker today?
Sin’s bad, I say, and, Have a lot of faith.
That’s good advice, Mother says. Yes, it is,
says Father. Yep, I say. I can’t tell them
I love her because I’m afraid they’ll laugh
at me–I can’t tell them what I pray for.
That would be like betraying Miss Hooker
but I’m not sure why. We’re just a secret
that we don’t exactly share. Love’s like that.
I don’t know anyone who loves me
like Miss Hooker, my Sunday School teacher,
unless it’s God but somehow He doesn’t
count, He’s way beyond me. Sure, He loves me
but so do my parents but somehow they
don’t rate much either, God bless ’em, they’re too
busy with jobs and each other and they
can’t give me what I want and neither can
God–well, He can but He doesn’t care to,
I guess. He never answers my prayers
and I have better luck with Santa Claus
though only once a year but that’s ten times
the luck I have with God. Probably more.
There’s my dog but he has the excuse that
he isn’t even human and maybe
God isn’t, either, but Miss Hooker says
that I was created in His image,
and every other person, too, so
maybe He’s confused with all the people
He’s created, He can’t keep ’em straight so
to be fair to everybody He won’t
answer any prayers and if He did
so for everybody He wouldn’t
have much power anymore, we’d all be
gods. That is, I guess He created me,
I don’t know where else I could’ve come from,
but I’m just 10 and have a right to be
ignorant, forget I’m in the fourth grade
and not exactly stupid, there’s just not
much in my head now. All I have is heart.
I think maybe I came from my parents
but I’m not sure and when I ask them
they either smile or grimace. If I ask
on Friday nights they look at each other
and maybe Father will say, Well, well, well,
wouldn’t you like to know, which means he won’t
tell me. Then he winks at Mother and I
look at her fast and she’s blushing, staring
at her hot dog like she’s never seen meat
before. And if I ask on Sunday through
Thursday sometimes he answers the moon, or
I dunno, or I wish to Hell I knew,
or look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls,
but we use Comptons and they don’t tell me,
(continued / no stanza break)
or under a rock in the River Nile
but even I know that’s far, far away.
I asked Miss Hooker once and she told me
to ask my folks and I said I did but
they won’t tell me and I’m starting to think
that they don’t know but are too embarrassed
to confess it. She laughed. I’m not sure why.
I prayed to God about it but struck out.
I’d do better just to ask my dog and
I’ll be he knows but he can’t speak people,
only dog, which I don’t know. Cat neither
but we don’t have one of those anyway.
Miss Hooker’s an old lady, 25
I’d guess. When I grow up I’ll marry her
no matter that she’ll be older, too. Ask
me if I care. I don’t. When I’m her age
she’ll be 40, which is pushing death but
we could have a few good years together
and maybe even a few babies and
if I don’t know the skinny by then she
can fill me in and then maybe I’ll learn
how I was put together, too. I have
a clue or two: it helps to be married
and sleep in the same bed in the dark and
have the door shut, even locked, like my folks
do, and I think they even put something
over the keyhole so I can’t see in,
which I don’t. No, that’s a sin and a lie
–I tried to but all I saw was darkness.
And maybe you turn the radio on.
And maybe you giggle and sigh and moan
and then light cigarettes. I smell the smoke
clear up to my attic bedroom. Then you
whisper for a while and then you snore and
your wife goes to the bathroom and when she
comes back she wakes you up, or tries to. And
as near as I can figure, that’s how I
happened. I wish I could remember but
I was awfully young then. Smarter, too.
Dr Gale Acuff taught English university courses in the US, China, and Palestine. He has been published in Ascent, McNeese Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Poem, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Orbis, and has authored three books of poetry, all from BrickHouse Press: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.
You can find more of Gale’s work here on Ink Pantry.