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Understanding by Gale Acuff

In Sunday School today Miss Hooker asked
how many of us wanted to go to
Heaven when we die and my classmates all
raised their hands, and Ruby McCorkle both
and I guess one of hers made up for mine
because I didn’t raise it, I’m not sure
if that’s the best place for me even if
I pray and and pray to God to forgive my
sins, there are so many and I’m so good
at it, sinning I mean. Just yesterday
I swiped a Zagnut from the drug store
and didn’t help a little old lady
trying to cross the street and tried to cheat
on my math quiz last week but failed–is that
a sin if you can’t pull it off?–maybe
because somewhere in the Bible Jesus
says that if you even think about lust
you’ve as good as done it. Whatever it
is–I think I’m too young to know but it’s
got something to do with being naked,
maybe a woman being naked I mean, and
maybe a man, too, and they’re together
and doing something that they shouldn’t and
they’re not married. One day I guess I’ll know
–I think you learn on your honeymoon but
you’ve got to sign something first and I want
to marry Miss Hooker one day even
if she’s already getting on in years,
25 to my 10 but I can’t wait
until I’m 16 though that means she’ll be
even older, too, figures escape me
but I do know she’ll be over 30
and won’t have much left so if we’re going
to have babies we’ll have to have them fast,
or she will, maybe one or two a year for
as long as she can keep it up and then
she’ll die and leave us all alone and sad
but I expect we’ll get over it and
I’ll get married again but she’d better
boast red hair, green eyes, and freckles, just like
Miss Hooker, and freckles under her clothes,
too, like I’ll bet Miss Hooker has–I’ll know
for sure on our wedding night if it’s not
too dark and if it is I’ll get up and
turn the TV on with the volume down
and it will throw its light like a campfire
though I’ve never been camping but it looks
some fun. And a wild dog howls at the moon
and the clouds roll by but not too quickly
and you lie there and count the stars and if
you know your con-stel-la-tions you see them
like old friends and if you’re patient and don’t
move you watch them drift across the sky and
sink away, like waterlogged Cheerios
but the strawberries always seem to float,
that’s unsinkable is what that is and
stands for your dreams, which should never drown. My
big one is Miss Hooker but I blew it
good when she asked me why I didn’t raise
my hand so I just said, I’m sorry ma’am,
could you repeat the question, and the class
laughed and so did she and so did I but
she asked it again anyway and I
raised my hand but this time all alone, which
was funny, I mean funny-strange, but
lied because I don’t think I really want
to go to Heaven and lying’s a sin
but at least I told the truth but what I
didn’t say and was too scared to is that
I really want to live forever–Hell,
I don’t want to die and I mean ever,
even if Miss Hooker says nobody
knows when God will call them back, and besides
if I died right now I’d go to Hell so
maybe Heaven’s better than nothing if
you have to make a choice and she says that
we do. It’s the lesser of two evils,
maybe. After class I went up to her
to shoot my wad and tell her I love her,
which isn’t a lie, it’s the truth as much
as I can understand it. But I choked
and mumbled, See you next Sunday instead,
unless I’m dead by then but I didn’t
say that, it’s kind of understood, so we’ve
got something in common. I wonder what.

Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Adirondack Review, Ottawa Arts 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, and has 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). He teaches university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.