Gale Acuff


I haven’t got much time left before I
die is what I think when I think about
Eternity, which maybe isn’t time
at all but something else, not long but deep,
and I’m only ten years old and won’t live
forever, even 100 isn’t
forever, and when I’m finally dead
and over the newness of it I’ll look

back on my life and however many
years I actually lived and maybe
think, That was merely a moment compared
to what I have now. In Heaven or Hell
is also what I’m wondering about,
I mean where I’ll spend Eternity and
at Sunday School my teacher’s high on
Heaven and as down as she can be on

Hell but if there’s eternal life in both,
forget that I’ll be kind of dead, the kind
of dead that we know when we’re alive, on
earth I mean, then maybe the Good Place and
the Bad are identical. So after class

today that’s what I asked her, Miss Hooker’s
her name, and she said no but she didn’t
or maybe couldn’t explain why, she was
running late, she said–she had to get home
because she forgot to feed her kitty
but said that she’s have an answer for me
next Sunday. I guess it doesn’t matter

if I live that long or not since if I
don’t then I’ll be dead and know the answer.
But if I’m still alive then Miss Hooker
can fill me in exactly one week from
today. I’d say, I can’t wait, but I can.

Back Seat Driver

Bill Mott’s grandfather on his father’s side
is driving us in his Corvair Monza
to the movie house in Marietta
to see some flick called Frogs. He’ll pick us up
after the show. It’s a Saturday night.
Bill and I are fifteen. We don’t yet drive
and we haven’t dated but we love cars
and his father’s Playboys. Loose cars and fast
wimmen, his grandfather phrases it. It’s
dark and he has trouble seeing, even
in the daylight. I’m in the back seat with
an imaginary girl. She’s frightened
but I soothe her. The way my father would
me. Nothing to be afraid of, I say
under the cool cotton sheet of my breath.
I make sure my lips are barely moving
by touching them so Bill’s old man’s old man
won’t think I’m screwy. He sees me in
the rearview mirror. Oh, I’m not afraid
with you, she (doesn’t) reply. I put my
arm around her. We’re as close as can be
without being each other. But we are
each other. That’s love, I sigh. What’s love? Bill
asks. He’s turned around because he’s heard my
moan. Nothin’, I say. Nevermind. Nothin’.
I worry about you sometimes, Acuff,
he says, and turns back to the windshield. Or
where we’re going. That was a close one.
He turns around again. Just what are you/
doing back there? he laughs. Nothin’, I say.
Not much room back here for anything. If
ever there was a car with a hopeless
back seat, it’s a Corvair. And I’m dizzy
from fumes sucked in from the engine, behind.
Unsafe at any speed, Ralph Nader says.
I told Bill that once. Fuck him, he said. It
only rolls over if you make it roll.
There’s always trouble if you look for it.
I guess he told me–he’ll never sell Ralph.
She’s back, looking up at me–not easy
because I’m short for my age but when you’re
15 and like cars and have never kissed
a girl before, you compensate. What’s this
movie about? she asks. Not sure, I say.
Frogs, she says. Do you reckon it’s about
frogs? Your guess is as good as mine–again
my father, what he’d say. Oh, I’m not afraid,
she says. I smile. In the light of a passing
car I’m caught in the sights of the mirror.
Son, Bill’s grandfather says, you look happy.
Bill turns back again. Acuff, what are you
doing back there, boy? Minding my beeswax,
I say. Well, just be sure that you don’t mind it
all over the seat, he says. We laugh. His
grandfather smiles the smile I was smiling.
We are three American men in a
dangerous American-made budget
sports car that isn’t really a sports car
and we don’t give a damn for nothin’. But
she’s afraid again, Georgia Mae’s afraid
because I can feel that she’s feeling I’ve
betrayed her. She’s removed my arm. I take
her hand. She lets me hold that. I have to
choose. Sooner or later I have to choose.
I’m one of the boys but now she’s my girl
and so I have responsibilities.
I’m not sure I can please everybody.
Bill’s old man’s old man looks in the mirror,
croaks, Bill says you are a whiz-bang student,
Son. I’m just an old Florida railroad man
but lemme say my cap’s off to you.
Yeah, Acuff, Bill adds. You always make me
look bad. Cut it out, wouldja? Thank you, Sir,
I say to the driver. I wanna go
to college. I wanna be a doctor.
A doctor? Bill says. Last week you wanted
to be an ichthyologist!– Hell’s that?
his grandfather asks. A fish scientist,
I answer. The old man whistles like a
train pulling into the station. ‘S okay
to change your mind, he says, so long as you
don’t change your heart. We say nothing to that.
Then Bill turns and lips, silently,
Change your fart? But my baby didn’t see
–she’s asleep. My arm’s around her again.
We laugh. Hell’s funny? Grandfather asks.
We arrive at the show. Just Bill and I
go in. Grandfather will return for us,
I hope–he’s got my girl in his back seat.
In the lobby we size up the women.
As he keeps his eye on a high school gal,
Bill says, I’m worried about ol’ Grandpa.
He’s getting too old to drive at night. I
didn’t expect this. I eye what he eyes
so we’re looking at each other but by
studying the same thing. He’s a nice guy,
I say. You’re lucky–both of mine are dead.
Like your nuts? he says. And we’re safe again.

Gale Acuff’s poetry has been published in Ascent, Ohio Journal, Descant, Poem, Adirondack Review, Coe Review, Worcester Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Arkansas Review, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, and many other journals. He’s the author of three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008) and has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.